Monday, March 18, 2013

Faith's First Anat Baniel Lessons

To someone who might not know Faith well, or to the stranger observing Faith, her movements probably seem pretty abnormal. Her tone kicks in and her muscles tighten, not allowing her to move or relax. Every once in a while, she throws her arms up in the air for no apparent reason. When she's tired, her head hangs to the side and she can barely keep it up, even while sitting supported in her chair. But to me, this is Faith and this is how she has moved for most of her life.

She has spastic motions that are anything but graceful. While sitting with me, her hand will shoot up and slap me in the face. There is no reason - no purpose for some of her movements - that is all she and her parents have known. We are in a constant battle with her high muscle tone. Sometimes she tightens up so stiffly we can barely pick her up. This is how it has been for her nine years of life. This is normal for us.

This week I learned life does not have to be this way. This week I've seen Faith move in ways I never thought possible for her, barring a miraculous healing. It was amazing to see Faith push her feet in her footrests to help scoot her behind to the right place in her chair. It was amazing to see Faith "find the middle" of her chair and to sit up in a straightened position all on her own - even without the support of the laterals on her chair. She was excited too and repeated, "I did it! I did it!"

It has been an eye-opening week for me, to say the least. I've come to realize that keeping her strapped and restrained tightly in her chair has not allowed her to explore ways for her to achieve purposeful movement. Her movement has always been so random and so disorganized, but through the Anat Banal Method, both Faith and I learned that there are ways to help her organize and move her body that are beneficial to her. In doing so, her brain can actually form new neural connections.

I know it all sounds so abstract and it is hard to even put down into words. So instead of using words, I'll share some photos that I took while Faith was working with Pati Holman, who comes to Bismarck from Milwaukee, WI.
This was actually day 2 of meeting Pati. The first day I just wanted to listen and take it all in so I didn't take any photos. Faith was a little nervous to get on the table on the first day and although she was still nervous on day 2, she quickly got over it. She and Pati had a great connection and I know Faith completely trusts her.
Pati helps Faith move on to her side. When Faith rolls onto her side, her body is usually very disorganized and she uses her legs, arms and her head to try to get herself onto her side. Pati repeatedly and very slowly rolled Faith onto her left side then her right and eventually Faith could do it without her whole body flailing in all directions.
Slow movements are essential in getting Faith to relax and help her feel and pay attention to how her body moves
Faith in a sitting position toward the end of the lesson - see how relaxed her legs are! Usually when she's in a sitting position, her lets shoot straight out.
Faith's third lesson - "Oh yeah, I know this lady! She's pretty nice but she's serious business too!"
Pati trying to help Faith figure out what is best for her in a sitting position.
Going from sitting to lying on her back.
Pati takes hold of Faith's arm to help her go from her back to a side position in the gentlest way possible, keeping her whole body as organized as she can.
Faith is totally relaxed and she finds something to play with.
Back to sitting. Pati has Faith putting her cheek on one knee then she helped Faith put her other leg up to do the same. This helps Faith to know that she has a right leg and a left leg and that they can function separately from one another. This is helping Faith to bring attention to her movement which is important for the brain in creating new connections.
That's it! That was our first four Anat Baniel Lessons. Both Robert and I feel this was a very positive experience for Faith we are looking forward to learning more!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brain Awareness Week and the Anat Baniel Method

Did you know that this week is Brain Awareness Week? I find it interesting that this is the week Faith will be introduced to an Anat Baniel practitioner and taking her first Anat Baniel Method (ABM) lessons during this week in particular.

The ABM practitioner we are seeing is coming here from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Rob met her in January during a workshop about ABM. Through another mom of a little boy with cerebral palsy, we learned the practitioner is coming back to Bismarck so we decided to schedule Faith for some lessons (they call them lessons, not therapy sessions). The mom I talked to recommended getting the book, "Kids Beyond Limits" by Anat Baniel before the lessons started and I am glad I did!

Through working with Moshe Feldenkrais, Anat Baniel has developed her own method of working with kids with special needs. For the past thirty years, she has worked with kids who have cerebral palsy, autism, ADHD, undiagnosed developmental delays and any other type of special need caused by a dysfunction of the brain. She is originally from Israel but currently works out of her center in San Rafael, California.

The book is helping me to learn more about the Anat Baniel Method, and I must say I am really excited to see how this can help Faith. We seem to be at a standstill with her traditional therapy and it is a little disappointing because I feel Faith is capable of so much more! I also know though, that I can't put all of my hope in this alternative therapy but we know we can't not try it either, especially since we have a practitioner coming here to Bismarck! (Most of the ABM practitioners work in large cities throughout the country).

The whole basis of ABM makes so much sense. While traditional therapy tends to focus on doing repetitive movements, exercises and botox injections to help relax the muscles, ABM gets to the root of the issue - the damaged parts of the brain that cause the muscles to have high tone. The focus is all on the brain and the goal is to find ways to help the brain reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. Anat Baniel writes "today we know that the brain can change itself. It is the part of us that is, in fact, most capable of change." How exactly do you get the brain to change and to form new neural connections? Well, I still have a lot to learn but between meeting and working with an ABM practitioner and reading the book, Kids Beyond Limits, I hope we can gain insight that will help Faith.

I can't wait to share with you how are lessons went - we have four scheduled this week. I'll try to take some photos too and share those as well. What about you - are you a special needs parent who has tried ABM with your child? What were your experiences, good or bad? I would love to hear from you! Happy Brain Awareness Week!