It has now been a little over two weeks since we returned from California. Aside from frequently dining at In-N-Out Burger, taking advantage of the nightly happy hour at our hotel, and numerous California jokes about gluten, trans fats and rollerblading (all of which receiving a chilly reception), we were there for an intensive two week introduction to the Anat Baniel Method (ABM).
The first week consisted of Kohl receiving two “lessons” a day, and the second week was a seminar specifically for parents of kids with special needs. It was a long trip out west, and Kohl had difficulties adjusting at first. But the practitioners quickly figured out how to incorporate Kohl’s unusual affinity for 90s rock into his lessons, and the first week ended up very well. He is already sitting up straighter and making better eye contact. The changes are very subtle and small, but small changes, over time, will add up to something significant.
The second week was a seminar for parents of kids with special needs in which Kohl and the other kids got lessons first thing in the morning, then there were sessions for the parents for the first half of the seminar, and then the last half of the day was parents only.
By the time the second week rolled around, however, Kohl decided that he was done. He wanted no part of even going to the facility where the seminar took place. He made it very clear that he wanted to stay in the hotel and listen to “The Cure” rather than go through with the sessions. Throughout the duration of the second week, I couldn’t help but to imagine every single one of the thousands of dollars that we spent on the seminar going into a fictional trash can. It was very frustrating
But now that we have had some time to let things soak in, I realize that Kohl’s brain had probably never gotten so much stimulation, and it was probably worn out by the time the second week rolled around.
Also, the parts of the seminar that we did get to attend were helpful, and getting the chance to spend some time with other parents with kids that have similar issues to Kohl was invaluable.
So, in all, it was a great trip to California.
Here are three of our initial impressions of ABM:
ABM is a system, based on principles called “The Nine Essentials,” that use various kinds of movements to facilitate better organization of neural connections in the brain. Yes, it sounds “New Age-y.” Yes, we were skeptical going in. But while I have certainly not ruled out pursuing other forms of alternative forms of therapy for Kohl, I am currently of the opinion that this system may open up a world of possibilities for Kohl.
The entire method is based on the concept of brain plasticity, which means that the brain has the capability to reorganize itself and accomplish various things despite the existence of damage. This is something that makes parents like us very optimistic. And the most exciting part is that we are only beginning to understand the concept of brain plasticity and the implications it holds for children like Kohl.
My favorite part of the seminar was when a leading researcher in brain plasticity came to give us a talk. The main takeaway from his discussion was that we are merely on the cusp of what the human brain is capable of, which gives us very real reasons for hope.
It is non-traditional
One thing I like about the ABM philosophy is that it seeks to meet the child where they are. Instead of trying to force them into various movements that they cannot currently do, ABM focuses on what the child CAN do.
In Kohl’s case, where traditional therapy involves putting him in a harness to practice walking or putting him in his stander, we did none of those things in California. It involved a lot of slower, more subtle movements to his lower back, pelvis and hips – often while laying down. What was fascinating was that this, in turn, helped him sit up straighter. This seems to be in line with the ABM concept that the movements they incorporate establish new networks of neural pathways that build on one another to eventually allow a child to perform some kind of movement.
I’m still of the opinion, however, that traditional therapy has its place. The most avid of ABM supporters will go so far as to say that traditional therapy is harmful to your child because practicing movements that the child cannot do results in what are called “patterns of failure.” In other words, forcing the child to continue to do something they cannot do results in making those patterns of not being able to do the particular movement to become more deeply grooved into the brain.
This does make sense, but Kohl has and, we believe, will continue to benefit from some aspects of traditional therapy. In Kohl’s case, he wears Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFO’s) and spends time in a stander. This is done, not necessarily to teach him how to stand or walk, but to prevent abnormal growth of the muscles, tendons and ligaments in his hips, ankles and feet which is a risk with children that do not walk or bear weight on their feet. That said, we’re not going to dispense with traditional therapy or some of the bracing he wears because they are helping him, and we have some incredible therapists.
Connecting with your child
Perhaps the most enlightening part of ABM was the complete change in perspective. Accepting the ABM philosophy as a means to help your child develop involves a complete change in approach that goes against our natural tendencies
There is a chapter in Anat Baniel’s book,Kids Beyond Limits, called “From Fixing to Connecting.” It is one of the earlier chapters that explains the basis behind the entire method and how it requires you to stop trying to “fix” all of your child’s problems. The brain is the control system for your entire life, so when it sustains global damage, there are a laundry list of problems – cerebral palsy, cortical visual impairment, seizures, physical limitations, cognitive issues, etc. As a parent, you attempt to figure out how to make your child live the fullest life possible despite their limitations, so the natural tendency is to fix these problems.
Indeed, traditional therapies seek to attack these issues head on. If your child can’t sit up unassisted, the therapy sessions consist of helping him to sit up. If he can’t grasp a toy, you help him grasp a toy.
But since the starting point of ABM is what your child can do, the focus is on connecting with your child, figuring out what they can do and what they are trying to convey and goes from there. It goes with the flow. It meets your child where he is.
For me, this was very profound. A lot of the stress that special needs parents face involves how to “fix” your child’s problems. At the end of each day, there is a constant anxiety that lurks beneath the surface that causes you to question whether you are doing enough to help your child with their mobility issues, their feeding issues, their cognitive issues, etc. The list goes on and on, and it can all be very overwhelming.
But meeting your child where they are and connecting with them, and being with them in the moment doesn’t just make for a much less stressful, fuller experience with your child, it actually helps them develop.
There is a part in the book that recommends just taking 10 minutes a day to just “be” with your child. I have tried this, and it is an enormous relief. Those ten minutes are precious. During those ten minutes, I don’t worry about whether Kohl will ever walk or talk. Whether he will ever live a productive life. I’m just with my son in the moment.
Even if Kohl does not benefit at all from ABM, learning how to connect more deeply with my child was more than worth the price of admission.
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