“Our only limitation is our belief that it is so.” Moshe Feldenkrais, PhD
Phillip and I participated in an activity that probably most mothers and adult sons would never do. We attended the Anat Baniel Method for Children with Special Needs workshop. We stood behind chairs, slowly bending our knees, learning how small slow movements can awaken the brain.
Anat Baniel has an international reputation for her work with children with special needs. She runs the Anat Baniel Method facility in Marin County, California and is the author of “Kids Beyond Limits” and “Movement for Life.”
Twenty-three years ago, Phillip began working with Anat on his first birthday and could barely lift his head. When Phillip was initially diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, we bombarded him with traditional physical therapy. He turned red and screamed violently through all his therapy sessions. He was stuck and light years behind hitting any of those “development milestones.”
But when Phillip experienced his first “lesson” in movement with Anat, he became engaged, curious, and began to learn how to move his spastic, yet listless body. Anat’s work evolved out of the Feldenkrais method. Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais was an Israeli scientist who developed the method based on the principles of physics, neurology, and physiology and the conditions under which the nervous system learns best.
Because I witnessed great and small gains in Phillip’s ability to move, I travelled with Phillip to see Anat several times a year. We would follow up with practitioners who were Anat Baniel Method trained in Chicago, New York and then Atlanta.
When Phillip developed Type I diabetes at age 15, it became too difficult to travel. Phillip continued working with practitioners locally. But Anat was present at all of his milestones…learning how to roll, how to sit up, how to pull himself to stand, take a few steps and even how to talk. When he was almost four, his first word was “light” on her table, as he gazed up at the ceiling above. I was unsure if he would ever be able to talk, but when he said “light,” it was an amazing moment. I was filled with gratitude and immense joy.
Unlike other therapists and doctors, Anat and her practitioners support the child with special needs to help the brain discover its own solutions:
“Over time I have realized that we discover the genius of any child not in the seeming perfection or gracefulness of her specific achievement…such as climbing stairs effortlessly…but in the ability to use imagination and divergent thinking to find unique ways of accomplishing a task in response to tough challenges.” (p. 193 Kids Beyond Limits: Breakthrough results for children with autism, Asperger’s, brain damage, ADHD and undiagnosed developmental delays.)
Because Phillip had not seen Anat in several years, he greatly anticipated attending the Atlanta workshop. Quite eloquently, Phillip told the crowd of 100 participants how Anat had helped teach him how to move, and what her work has meant to him over the years. I described how immobile and non-verbal he was before beginning his work with the Anat Baniel method.
After the workshop, a mother with a three year old in a stroller came running up to me. She said how impressed she was with Phillip’s talk and his ability to participate in the workshop. But she had a hard time believing that when Phillip was young he was immobile, similar to her daughter.
“Is it really true that Phillip couldn’t lift his head until he began doing this work,” the mother asked? “He couldn’t move his body, and lay in a stroller like my daughter?”
“Yes, “ I said. When he was a toddler, we referred to Phillip as a Buddha baby, because we would prop him up with pillows, and he would sit like a statue. Without the pillows, he would topple over.
Today’s workshop was a reminder of how far Phillip has come, and how the work has given him so many different options for movement, and for his life. Phillip still struggles with walking and using his fine motor skills. But every time he does this kind of work, he said there is a benefit.
“The workshop really helped me with my balance today, ” Phillip said.
To learn more about the Anat Baniel method, visit www.anatbanielmethod.com.