Restore human dignity and realize the potential of your child with special needs

“What I after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I am after is to restore each person to their human dignity” (Dr. M. Feldenkrais)

Your child is born and there is joy, maybe some fear about doing it right and lots of expectations. Then you get the news: your child might have “special needs”. You realize you have to reorganize your life a lot more than you planned. You might get overwhelmed with lots of medical treatments and opinions. Or you might know there is something different with your child, but there is no name for it yet.

The natural reaction is: I want to have it fixed!!

So there is are things that can be fixed and corrected, like a broken bone or a valve in a heart or a car or a kitchen cabinet.

With your child and her or his development and learning however, this model does not work. As a living and feeling being, a child is learning every moment from her or his experiences. Humans as “work in progress” and especially children with special needs need trust, a lot of slow pace and observation. And very important: children with special needs need more than others an environment that offers cues for healing and growing.

In the last 30 years in my careers I had a lot of joy observing, playing and exploring with young people. There is no doubt:

Every child has the capacity to learn and develop.

Observe any children: they WANT to figure things out.  They constantly look for opportunities to move and think and understand who they are in the world. Regardless of special needs, everybody has a working brain! Click here for current research resources

What modern brain research is clear about: The brain must be actively involved and challenged to create new connections, so the child can learn to overcome her/his limitations.

Of course, it is helpful to look at milestones. As an occupational therapist and Feldenkrais® practitioner, I studied typical child development. What is most fascinating when watching children, is their endless creativity and discovering so many variations to do one task. Children with special needs have often experienced already in their first days trauma like intubation, being separated from parents due survival necessary medical treatments. This and possibly not being able to move as freely and easily have thrown them back in their ability to explore and randomly discover their movements and environment.

Random movements like bringing the hands and feet to the face are often not available for a child with low or very high tone. She/he will not be able to do the next step in learning: to discover the hands and feet, to roll to the side just “by accident", figure out how to come back and roll even more and eventually come to sit...

Being able to transition from one situation to another, sensing her/his own body and finding inner rhythm are often great challenges for a child with autism, spasticity or very short-term attention spans.

It is good to seek professional help with such challenges!

 The following guidelines lead our work with your child:

  1. To really help a child, we have to rely on a child’s brain to make the necessary changes.
  2. Your child is an active participant in the work. With our support she/he can discover variations and in her/his movements and social skills, and play with with joy and curiosity. This will be not happen with mechanical exercises, but with retraining the central nervous system to find innovative pathways around its injuries.
  3. To make lasting changes, we need enough time (also for yourself). A child with central vision impairment or spastic arms and legs or attention problems cannot learn and feel her/himself at a fast pace or transition from one place cognitively or physically. So failure and frustration are programmed. Being slow and gentle will enable your child to sense what is going on will speed up learning!
  4. All this only succeeds with good awareness. So we teach you and your child to develop and sharpen awareness. What am I doing and what do I do it for? For example: the discovery and learning to have two hands that can do different things like holding a toy with one hand and pulling on it with the other hand. We also will offer your child making a choice using voice or cards: Do you want to play now with the ball? Or do you want to eat a snack? Awareness is self-directed attention and the basis for executive functioning skills that we all need in our lives: doing and stopping a task, being motivated to do a chore, planning a movement or task and solving the small and bigger problems in life.
  5. Feldenkrais® practitioners do not start with what you cannot do. If your child could crawl, wouldn’t it? If it could walk, would it not take off and explore the environment with joy and curiosity? In the Feldenkrais® work, we might start with movements like supporting the toddler to shift weight in familiar but also novel way. The child then might take over and continue that by him/herself. We might help the child do a lot random movements that were not possible in his/her first months because of surgeries or feeding tubes or other life necessary interventions. The child discovers: this is fun. I want more.

More information from our community:

Anat Baniel, Kids beyond Limits

Magda Gerber and the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE)