If you are the parent of a neurodiverse child, you have probably researched ways to facilitate your child’s development. While working with practitioners within the traditional medical model, you have probably repeatedly heard what problems your child has and what all the deficits are. As Feldenkrais Practitioners, we can offer you a very different perspective. We look for and identify your child’s strengths, the skills that provide the basis for all future progress. Most importantly the whole child is important and any lack is addressed as just a part of this whole.
The Feldenkrais Method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais as a gentle, but effective method which uses the principles of neuroplasticity to teach children new ways to move with ease. It encourages skill development through pleasant, specific touch. It creates variety within the child’s movement repertoire by providing missing information to the child’s nervous system. For instance a traditional therapist might start a child who is 6 months old sitting because that’s what a child is supposed to be doing at that age. A Feldenkrais practitioner would look for improving the skills that develop before sitting that will make sitting possible. Often the problem is impacted indirectly while using the better functioning parts. The movement lessons last between 30 minutes to an hour depending on the child’s response to the work.
If you came to see me for a 1 to 1 lesson, I would ask what your child is doing during our initial phone call. In my view, if they have a diagnosis it is only one piece of information, not a defining factor. In the traditional medical community the diagnosis and deficits determine interventions. The starting point for Feldenkrais practitioners is your child’s current skills, not their diagnosis. While answering your questions, I ask questions of my own and listen in order to begin to develop a picture of your child.
During our first visit we would start with your child in your lap as I begin to establish rapport with both your child and you. It may surprise you to find that I place importance on your child’s sense of security. Learning does not take place when your child is upset or crying and the Feldenkrais Method emphasizes learning novel movement patterns. As the child becomes comfortable they are shifted onto the table where I discover your child’s movement repertoire and their systems’ responsiveness.
I play with your child, getting them to reach or roll to get a toy. If a child doesn’t have those skills as I gently move your child to see where there’s resistance. I look at the whole child – not just the problem areas. I will find one thing that I am confident can change during the lesson and point it out to you. It might be that your child’s ankles are tight and I can get them to soften or that your child is only rolling in one direction and I can help them begin to roll to the other side. As I facilitate your child’s movement I am continually interacting with your child to build rapport. I clearly describe the strengths that I find to you. As I emphasize these strengths to you, your child absorbs the meanings behind the words as well. By the end of the lesson you both have experienced success. Most importantly you see your child being valued for their current strengths and a sense of hope for continued progress in their development. Your child gains a sense of ease and a sense of accomplishment.
You may want to know what you can do to help your child. Here, again, I use the idea of your natural strengths and give you ways to play that will help.
Instead of onerous stretches and a prescription of poorly tolerated tummy time I might suggest playing with your child while they are lying on their side. In this position, they can roll toward their tummy and toward their back. This offers children who need to develop head and trunk control an enjoyable way to learn to coordinate the use of their flexors and extensors (the muscles on the front and the back of their body).
If you are a father who has been hesitant to rough house with your child as you would normally do, you can learn how to roll your child into a somersault that keeps your child safe while improving flexion and balance. You may be relieved that you can still be your child’s parent and not have to be their therapist. This strengthens the bond between the two of you.
You will also learn how to listen to your child’s cues by witnessing how I respond to your child in ways that respect what your child can tolerate. For example, if your child has oral sensitivities, in order to develop trust with your child I consistently demonstrate to them that their limits will be respected. Gradually I can desensitize your child to being worked with in and around the mouth by staying as much as possible within your child’s comfort zone. You see that a goal is not achieved by force but by a slow and gentle approach as your child gains confidence.
Building on your child’s strengths gives them a sense of potency so that as they progress they gain a stronger sense of themselves, giving them confidence and the building blocks to increase their independence.
Recently the mother of a 9-year old boy that I work with shared that her son was playing outside by himself and wanting to swing. He got into the swing by himself and figured out how to use his arms and legs to swing himself even though previously someone had always pushed him. Another mother shared the following story about her daughter who has cerebral palsy: on a stormy night, she crawled out of her bed down to the floor, put her crying dog up on the bed, and then climbed back into bed without calling for help from her parents. These spontaneous successes give hope for the child’s development as an independent individual.
Searching for ways to help your child develop can be challenging, but working with a Feldenkrais Practitioner provides effective lessons that lead to progress in motor and cognitive development. Your child is seen as a whole with strengths that can be built upon. You, the parent, are always a vital partner in your child’s development and working with a Feldenkrais Practitioner can give you a deeper appreciation of your child’s unique gifts and confidence in your own abilities to support your child.
Cyndi Manes is a retired Physical Therapist who has been a Feldenkrais Practitioner for more than 20 years. She has specialized in working with neurodiverse children. Cyndi has taken Chava Shelhav’s ChildSpace training which emphasized parent / infant interactions to promote child development and Anat Baniel’s mastery training, Working with Children with Special Needs where she improved her handling techniques. Her primary mentor is Ellen Soloway. Cyndi has synthesized her diverse trainings into an effective approach to ensure her client’s success.
More information is available at her website www.cyndimanes.com