How babies shift their awareness

Feldenkrais-Method-practitioner-for-childrenBabies have the natural ability to shift the focus of their attention.  The shift can be from one object to another, or one sense to another or even from focusing internally to focusing externally.  Internal focus gives them the ability to gather information about how they experience and feel an action.  External focus gives them information about the environment, whether it is the surface they are on, mom’s face, or the music they hear.  Being able to shift attention is imperative for learning.  Enhancing this skill is a big component of Anat Baniel Method or Feldenkrais work.  Learning increases exponentially with increased ability to focus on how it “felt” to do something.  It’s important to focus long enough to notice the details which will make it possible to create the experience again.  

Many children with special needs have a disruption in their ability to shift attention.  What we think of as multi-tasking is the ability to very quickly shift between more than one thing. If this process happens too quickly a child won’t dwell long enough to take in enough information to process and learn as in attention deficit disorder.  If it does not happen enough children will not be aware of anything except for what they are intensely focused on.  A child with autism might not be able to shift attention away from a toy, or a baby with internal discomfort might not be able to shift to receiving external information from the world around them.

A healthy brain will be able to prioritize incoming information, to choose which things to attend to in the moment.  When you drive down the road, if you spent as much time seeing the flowers and the houses going by as you do the road you wouldn’t last long.  You pay attention to the cars around you, signs and signals and the roadway as a priority.  The ability to prioritize is one of the things that can deteriorate with age and which is missing in Autism and Autism Spectrum disorders.  Brains can improve this skill through improving the timing of shifting attention, and through noticing greater distinctions.  Dr. Merzenich’s computer programs for adults and children create that experience.  So do ABM practitioners.  

Here’s a video that intrigues me.  In 2 minutes you can see 4 hrs of baby activity.  Notice how frequently this child shifts attention.  The world is explored with hands, feet, mouth and body.  Toys are not the only experience.  Watch how the chair, the cardboard box, the shelves even the wall are part of his experience.  

 

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Book review – Closer to the Light – Learning from the near-death experiences of children

Neil Sharp hosted a wonderful Sunday afternoon in San Francisco this weekend and it gave me the chance to meet another mom.  Our talks reminded me the impact reading Closer to the Light by Melvin Morse, M.D. had on me.  

I had a good friend who would share books with me.  She gave me books on angels, on stress, and eventually this book about near death experiences in children.  I was so struck by the repeated evidence of the same phenomena being recorded with such great similarity from many many childrens’ stories.  

Growing up I did not have formal religious education.  My parents believed in letting their children be free to form their own beliefs.  I visited a few different churches as a teenager but was not drawn to any of them.  The structure and beliefs seemed far more ambiguous than science, logic and facts.  I moved on and my life proceeded until there I was in my 20s with a disabled child and lots of questions about why, but with no real spiritual support.  This book was written by an M.D. and simply presented the experiences and the author’s journey to discover what was occurring during NDEs.  Have you heard the expressions “out of the mouths of babes”?  That’s how I felt as I read.

By the end of the book I realized  – all children with Cerebral palsy have had a near death experience.  During birth cells had enough oxygen deprivation to die and create permanent change.  As a parent of a son with cerebral palsy I was comforted to read Morse’ observations when he revisited some of the children as teens.  He found “these children have become special teenagers who have excellent relationships with their families.  They share a maturity and wisdom that is humbling”. “These children have grown up to become remarkable teenagers…positive and upbeat kids with a joy that is inspiring.” (pg165-7).  I love working with children with cerebral palsy.  I find these observations to be true in my son, and in those I work with.

This is a book about Morse searching for answers using the medical model for evaluating situations.  He presented so much anecdotal information and was so careful about gathering his data that I could not set this information aside.  The next  step for me was to realize that I could choose to believe there was something beyond this reality we are living in this moment.  I realized that knowing there was never going to be a decisive answer I could choose to believe what gave me comfort.  Since that moment of decision the strength of what I call “my faith” has gotten stronger and feels right.  It gives me peace to feel that there is a purpose for us being here and reasons why things occur in this life.  

I feel I changed as a parent and advocate for Don with this decision.  People commented I seemed less stressed – that I was calmer in critical decision making meetings about my son’s services and future.  Reading this book created one of my turning points in this journey of raising my children.

 

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Is swimming good exercise for children with special needs?

As a neuromovement specialist I know that the first thing we encounter at birth is gravity. We, as humans, then go through a long apprenticeship learning to manage gravity. Most people keep improving their skills up to about 5 years old. Sadly, many stop there. Enrolling in sports is one way to continue that process. One of the things people gain when they work with me is an improved sense of how to use gravity. Some people are more challenged with this than others. Adults with stroke, back injuries, etc. may have to “relearn” what they discovered as children.  With children with special needs it is one of the primary things they learn that will really change their lives.  I encourage my clients to create a rich environment to continue learning outside of lessons with me with a focus on managing gravity. There’s lots of things you can do that enhance the apprenticeship in gravity for small babies, toddlers, children, athletes, those with injuries, and seniors.

People ask me is “Is swimming a good activity to support the learning?” My response: It can contribute to improved head control, it gives a person freedom to move, (and moving is just plain good for you), but the feeling of weight is altered and there is no feedback about movement in gravity in the water.  Think of how it feels when you step off a trampoline.  Your sense of gravity is distorted.  Or when you try to maneuver on an air bed or water bed.  That difficulty you feel is because you are used to using gravity against a firm surface.  It gives you information about how to lean and push to stay upright.  That feeling of being grounded and having something to push against is what we are trying to build in neuromovement lessons.  So if it is important for you or your child to gain more skill with managing gravity they should be spending most of their time getting experience IN gravity.

I still say – GO SWIM! – just know it is for fun NOT to learn to move in space. The biggest gain I think, is that everyone can do it. The whole family can swim together with the right devices to help the person with special needs.

My son loved the water from an early age. I think it was that weightless feeling and the freedom to move. He also loved the chaos and crowd feeling being in the middle of all the splashing, yelling, and jumping. Water is kind of an equalizer. With just a little help to make sure he stayed afloat he could join in the fun. We started with a typical baby float with the ring and sling seat. I used inflated water wings tucked around him to make sure he wouldn’t tilt out of position. We had a brief period using an adapted head float. That was great for giving him full body freedom to move. Once the baby seat and head float became to small we went to a child’s inflatable ring around his chest. It seemed a little unstable so we added the inflatable water wings on his arms to give him ballast to the sides. I was starting to stress about finding a ring in the next size when Don’s dad suggested he just try the water wings alone. Don would need to manage how low he was in the water by the height he held his arms with the wings. That was a big chunk of learning for him.   I didn’t think it was going to work, but they both proved me wrong.

Don learned to keep his arms down and was good at managing the splashing against his face. One of the things I have learned is that when Don really wants to do something he makes it happen. As an adult he loves to swim. Getting in the pool is easy – he just jumps from a seated position on the side and his water wings (adult size now) pop him right back up to the surface.  Getting out of the pool is a bigger challenge these days. He’s taller than me! I’ll write more about what we’ve tried to solve the exit problem in
another article. It’s an ongoing challenge.

You can find water wings, infant seats and swim rings at most grocery stores, drugs stores or places like Target.  For adapted swim equipment try:

Abledata

Especialneeds.com

 

 
 
 I recently ran across this article about swim equipment.  I hadn’t realized that public pools might not allow basic water wings.  It’s something to think about if you plan to use public pools.  Flotation equipment specifically for special needs might get you past that hurdle.  I would call ahead to the public pool to get authorized by an administrator rather than depending on the highschool life guard to break rules they have been given.  Note the link embedded there about a child asked to not use water wings in a public pool:  
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Sleepless?

I’m posting this here because many children with special needs have greater difficulty in calming themselves and quieting their brain enough to sleep. This article has some good resources for helping children learn to settle their own systems and get to sleep on their own. Annie Tucker Morgan references Richard Ferber, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston. 

One of the benefits of ABM that parents most often report is having their children start to sleep through the night even after just one lesson.

See website here:
http://www.divinecaroline.com/22108/86906-rock-a-bye-baby–sleep-training-work- 

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