Category Archives: Supporting your child’s learning

Anat Baniel Method and Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration

Anat-Baniel-Method-for-children NMRI ReflexPeople have asked me Why do Anat Baniel Method (ABM) if you are already doing Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI)? or vice versa.  Each makes a contribution, but for me, nothing gives children with special needs the joy of learning that ABM does.  Sometimes, turning on learning is such a challenge that it absolutely has to feel that good to be worth it.  I know that helping a child experience that joy is what makes me feel my work is worthwhile.  

 Can you tell I feel strongly about ABM?  It’s my primary focus and the foundation of my work with special needs children.  Read on and you will see why I also incorporate and recommend MNRI when I feel it can help.

 We are very fortunate to live in a time when there are many options for treatments, schools, and helping professionals for children with special needs.  Just 60 years ago there were not, and disabled children were kept at home and not included in society.  Recommendations and referrals come from many sources and parents of children with special needs have the responsibility to choose who will help their child.  There is no one professional who parents can rely on to tell them “THIS is the solution”.

 Parents not only have to choose WHAT experience to bring to their child but also WHO will be helping.  Professional classifications and certifications are designated to help consumers know how to find specialists and to give some idea about the knowledge and service that person has to offer.  No matter what field, there is always a range of experience and specialty to select from and a variety of personalities, people skills, and ways of presenting. Making these decisions is part of the challenge of being a parent of a special needs child.  Each helping professional chooses the area they wish to specialize in and offer to others.

 I chose learning as the solution out of limitation for my son and it began my journey into the world of movement, learning and brain plasticity.  I have always needed variety, creativity, and challenge in my work.  At 16 years old I lasted all of 2 days in a library clerk job filing books.  What was I thinking to take that job? Well, I love books and didn’t realize that FILING books is far different from READING books.  Live and learn.   With ABM every lesson with every child is a new puzzle to see what I can offer.  No two are ever the same so I am constantly creating solutions.  It’s the perfect job for me. 

 After so many years learning and working with Feldenkrais and Anat Baniel Methods (I can’t believe it’s been 20 years) I became intrigued with the outcomes Dr. Svetlana Masgutova was getting by working with the brain and reflexes and wanted to discover if there was something I could learn from her. 

 Feldenkrais, ABM, MNRI, Brain Gym, Brain Fitness software have in common the focus on the brain body connection and learning using the plasticity of the brain to help people improve how they feel, act and function.   What we previously have learned usually influences our understanding of new information.  My understanding of Dr. Masgutova’s work is with that previous ABM context.  Other students of her work have often come from other arenas or with less ABM experience so my interpretation and application is somewhat unique.

 I learned in the classroom workshops that Dr. Masgutova teaches around the United States how powerful and simple accessing that primitive reflexive part of the lower brain could be.  Doing something with intent has a huge impact and what I learned was to have the intent to shift a reflexive pattern by targeting it directly to allow learning to occur.  Dr. Feldenkrais and Anat Baniel use the understanding and knowledge of reflexes extensively.  Reflexes are not usually focused on in isolation but are built in to the journey toward voluntary organized action.  I have found that in some situations that intent and focus on a specific reflex/specific area of the brain can enhance how I can be helpful.

 The workshops are a combination of lecture and experiential learning and I actively practiced the “exercises” with my clients and family to see how effective they could be and how I could incorporate them in to what I know and do.  During this exploratory time my father had a powerful experience of being able to regain his sense of stability after falling when I applied the work to quiet his foot reflex (babinski) which had been triggered to protect him in the fall.  My son reported strong feelings of change in his brain during the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex exercises.  I myself had a very powerful reaction to a hip leveling reflex during a workshop when I was still needed to guard my movement after abdominal surgery.  Each of these experiences showed me that Masgutova has indeed developed a way to directly access how the brain is organizing itself and it can be powerful.

 Masgutova is quite specific in instructing parents and professionals how to do these exercises.  She has eliminated the evaluation process for families and any need to adapt what is done by providing the evaluations and changes in program in visits to her team every 4 to 6 months.  The home programs give parents a way to contribute to their child’s development and there are a lot of children benefiting.

 As I gained familiarity with MNRI I could see that though Masgutova and Feldenkrais have many of the same sources of information their focus diverged with Feldenkrais’ core of learning in gravity and the importance of bones, and Masgutova’s core of pre-gravitational (in utero) reflexes and reflexive protective mechanisms.  I find the two perspectives give me more tools to be helpful, especially with children with special needs who are often still so influenced by reflexes that their learning is hugely inhibited.

 I am very glad that I experienced Feldenkrais/ABM first and was able to add the reflex knowledge to my understanding of how the human system works.  I would like all children to have the experience of the joyfulness of learning and discovering that ABM brings.

I heard a story about an early Masgutova camp in California.  50% of the children were learning quite a bit faster than the other half.  When they looked for the common factor it was discovered those were the children who had been receiving ABM lessons before beginning the reflex work. If ABM is the first experience for a child with difficulty learning every other kind of experience will be enhanced. 

 I recently heard that the words “teaching” and “learning” had negative connotations for people because most have had the experience of feeling bad about their ability to learn.  What a shame.  I almost can’t comprehend it.  I would caution parents to be aware of what their child is experiencing and try to help them have the joyfulness and curiosity of exploring the world that is possible for everyone.  It’s a gift you give them that will last their whole life.  Choosing WHAT and WHO is helping your child can make all the difference.

NOTE:  Portions of this article appear in on the website CP Daily Living.  I highly recommend this amazing website as a huge source of information.

Here is a direct link to my contribution about MNRI on CP Dailly LIving

For more about MNRI also see Dr. Masgutova’s comprehensive site


When is it Learning and when is it a Crutch?

My priority for my son was to be a part of the community around him.  A child’s social learning is about how to be a friend, how to care for other people, how to be part of a group.  It’s a very complex apprenticeship that we somewhat expect to just happen.  There are  built in learning opportunities like extended family, or school but most parents unconsciously understand their babies and children need social contact so they have play dates, form play groups, enroll their children in nursery schools, sports, and extra curricular activities.  I knew it was important for my son to have as much social contact as possible.

Being around peers enables children to learn and practice the interactive skills they will use as an adult.  They learn to share, to take turns, to respect other people’s property and space and the dynamics of give and take in a relationship.  Skills learned and observations made in the family unit are tested to see if they apply in this new situation.  Who is in charge?  Who makes decisions?  How do friendships form and continue?  Hours and hours of experimentation and testing go in to their exploration of relationships with peers.

A child with a disability is at risk for not having the opportunities to learn the social skills we take for granted.  Physical limitations can make it tough to keep up or join in.  There can be similar problems with limitations in communication, vision, understanding (cognition), emotional development or even just the energy level to keep going with the others.  My son had limitations physically, in communication, and in energy.  He also spent a huge amount of time in therapies.  That might be considered a time limitation.

My vision for my child was that whatever the outcome of therapies was, he would be able to be a happy, productive person in society.  Whether or not he could walk or talk I felt that engaging with other people was the key to a happy satisfying life.  I would have gladly continued to assist him in whatever way he needed me forever, but I knew what independence would feel like and I wanted that feeling of power and autonomy for him.  I understood early on that being in a restrictive environment might be hugely helpful for SOME of his needs but would not take care of ALL of his needs.  The only way to learn to engage and interact in society was to learn people skills and practice them as a child. He needed to be around peers who would become the adults that he would encounter in a community.

So, I started my son in a regular preschool at the same time he started the special school where all his limitations would be accomodated and he would learn computer skills he would need in kindergarten.  Two days a week I would take him to Miss Margie’s class where he became part of the group, made friends, and participated in the pacing and flow of those typical child activities.  He spent one year in a special kindergarten continuing to refine his technology skills but that teacher also merged her class throughout the day with a typical kindergarten class.  Don left the special supportive setting and entered a regular first grade class the next year. He had an “itinerant teacher” who travelled around the district checking on special needs students who were enrolled in regular classes.   Everything went well until we neared the end of second grade.  Don was struggling with reading.  We now suspect that he has damage in his left cortex that affects the centers he needs for reading.  The special teacher was coming in to class to give him one to one assistance but I knew that he did not have the reading skills his peers did to move on to third grade.  I asked Stephanie, the specialist, what was going to happen.

Stephanie Ingnatenko taught me about remediation and compensation.  She explained that when there is a limitation there are two approaches possible.  One is to remediate, to help the person gain the learning that is limited.  The second is to compensate, to find some way for the person to not be so limited by the lack of learning.  The one on one reading help Don was receiving was remediation.  The Anat Baniel Method focuses on remediation.  Most surgeries are remedial.  Brain Fitness software is remedial.  Having Brail books for the blind is compensation.  So are wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, electronic talkers, audio books, etc.  Remediation is focused solely on building the learning that is limited.  Compensation is focused solely on making sure that the limitation does not interfere in other arenas.

Stephanie explained that Don understood the science, history, english and math curriculum perfectly.  He could not do reading assignments and taking notes was a very energy intensive long process.  He would have compensations so those two limitations should not keep him from moving forward.  We weren’t giving up on reading, there would still be remediation with a reading specialist, but Don would move on to third grade with his peers.

The classroom teacher chose a “reading buddy” for Don each week.  It was a very coveted position.  These were NOT always the best readers, but what better motivation for another student than to be the “special” person who got to read aloud to Don?  Wow.  I was so impressed.  In one action Don became part of the group, had his need taken care of, and the other students benefited too.  In later years other students used carbon paper to make him a copy of their notes they were writing, and in college he gets regular emails from someone in the class with their notes.

Some tools combine remediation and compensation when they assist with a limitation but also contribute towards building that same skill.  There are AFOs which are compensating for a limitation in the ability to use the foot and ankle,  but are also designed to give the child an opportunity to continue to learn.  The Kidwalk walker (dynamic stander) has features like the weight shift mechanism which allows the child to shift weight side to side during movement, and the swivel self centering seat which allows the pelvis to turn from side to side during walking.   These features help children gain skills toward walking independently while the Kidwalk provides the ability to be upright and move for those that can’t stand and maintain balance yet.  Augmentative communication devices (talkers) compensate for a child who can’t yet speak, but also allow for language learning because the child has the opportunity to experience communicating and using nouns, verbs, etc to put communicate thoughts.

 Parenting a special needs child does not come with a guide book.  There is no model to follow.  Even if in the past another child grew up with the same limiting condition(s) it does not predict the path or outcome  for your child now.  Learning is based on experience.  Technology changed that opportunity for experience for my son.  New inventions like the cutting edge walkers and AFOs are changing the opportunity for other children.  New ways of working with the brain are changing children’s experieinces.  Being aware of whether remediation or compensation are used can help parents to see the big picture of their child’s experience and help them to make informed decisions.  Parent’s can question, “is this helping my child have more experiences?”, “is it creating more limitations in the future?”, and “is there another solution which will both remediate and compensate?”.


The Brain Gut Connection

Dr Hyman is a functional medicine doctor who writes repeatedly about the impact of metabolism on health.  He helps many children and adults by addressing this foundation and making sure that their body has what it needs with supplements and tests to identify what is NOT working.  Tests for specific genes shifts can explain why some people are more likely to have deficiencies or mitochondrial disorder which affect their ability to produce energy or detoxify.

Here’s what Anat Baniel has to say about Dr. Hyman’s insights on her Facebook wall:

Let’s hope that more doctors will start seeing the individual!

“My work has always been based on getting the person and their entire system to work better, not on “treating pain” until it goes away. Someone may walk in with back pain and just want to make it go away, but in reality what needs to happen is that person’s whole system needs to find a better way of working as a whole in order to find solutions that don’t cause pain. Every thing that happens to a person is intricately linked to everything else about that person — which is why doctors should treat the person, and why I have always had a holistic view of people, their health, their needs, and my work!”

A New Era of Medicine has Finally Arrived

Dr. Hyman on nutrition and Autisim


Here is an article with more detail about how this perspective can really impact the Autistic condition.  These ideas about necessary nutritients and metabolism does not just apply to children with autism.

Can Autism Be Cured?


 Elinor Silverstein on metabolism and nutrition

I’ve spoken extensively with Elinor Silverstein about this relationship between brain, body, and metabolism.   Elinor’s knowledge comes from her background as a scientist with Biology and Zoology majors, and Pre-med and Pre-vet minors from Cal Poly, training as a practitioner with Moshe Feldenkrais,  and her continuing study of nutrition, genetics and visceral health.  She has a unique ability to help children with special needs and is a huge resource for families and practitioners. Elinor spoke in detail about the gut-brain connection, the importance of methylization, and her nutritional recommendations.  I will be posting articles about our conversations soon.



Creating a positive social environment for your child with special needs

We were so fortunate to have some wonderful teachers in Don’s early years. He started pre-school at 3 years old in order to learn how to use an AAC device. AAC means alternative augmentative communication device or as we called it, the “talker”. I chose his school because Cheryl Garavalia, the preschool teacher, had obtained a grant to pay for talking machines and training so her students could learn how to use them. Before he even entered school Don was tested and his device had been ordered.

So began our journey into academics. My goal was to have Don be able to stay with his peers. My feeling was that to be part of society he needed to learn about friendships and keep up with his social skills. The best chance to do that was to be right in there with children his age. Physical skills, and even academics could happen other places or at later times, but there was no replacement for the built in school environment for interacting with friends.

anat-baniel-method-therapy-special-needs-childrenI felt so strongly about this that when Don started at his special preschool where he would learn to use the talker and computer (at 3 years old!!!) I also started him at a regular pre-school my daughter had previously attended. Two afternoons a week he went with kids with NO special needs so he could get the best of both worlds.

Once he got into kindergarten the talker and a computer allowed him to complete his schoolwork fairly independently and he could socialize and participate in all the class activities, recesses, field trips, and fun.

I’m going to post a series of articles covering our school experience starting with these three:

How did we talk about Don’s disability?

How did communication happen?

What happened when he could not keep up with the academics? (Remediation vs. compensation)

Part 1 – How did we talk about Don’s disability?

We realized in the regular pre-school that other children had questions that needed addressed. We quickly learned that if we were pro-active and open to educating others it was a much more positive experience than waiting for the dreaded “what’s wrong with him” question. I  learned early on that I was willing to push myself way out of my comfort zone if it was going to make a difference for my child.  So, even though I was not an extroverted person, I began walking around with a smile, meeting people’s eyes and welcoming contact from complete strangers. Trips through the mall usually included at least 2 or 3 stops to chat with well-meaning adults or curious children. On bad days I would still charge along with my eyes down, moving fast so I wouldn’t see the looks and stares – but if I could open doors for Don by being welcoming then I was going to do it, most of the time. I later learned that this became a model for his sister and for Don to follow as they dealt with these issues independently as they got older. It was worth the effort.

So – smiling, saying hello – it didn’t eliminate the “what’s wrong with him” question but I’d grit my teeth and smile again and say “nothing is wrong at all. Are you wondering why he is in this wheelchair?” Most children’s experience of wheelchairs and medical equipment is limited to medical settings and elderly persons. They often wonder if someday they might be in this situation too. When Don was really small I’d just say “When he was born he got a hurt in his brain so he has trouble telling his muscles what to do. The wheelchair makes it so he can get around like you do with your feet when you walk”. At 2 years old my son had his first power wheelchair so most kids thought that was pretty cool. I even heard quite a few times – “Wow mom – I wish I could have one of those”. My internal dialog responded “Grrrrr. No you don’t”.

Having the manual chair or the power chair really made quite a difference. Adults were clear that something was definitely special. Before we got them Don used a stroller with extra support I made by covering foam with fabric. In his stroller, or when I’d run in the store with him carried against my shoulder, I could feel that they weren’t sure what was different. The fact that he couldn’t lift his head once caused a gentleman to scold him for “making his mom carry him when he was such a big guy”, and often people would say – “oh, is he tired?”. Once we got the two chairs they knew that they were looking at a special situation and instead of feeling the long looks as people tried to figure things out we found that many people would say hello. That’s how I got started being the disability ombudsperson.

What helped was having something positive for well meaning people to comment on. It might be cool sunglasses, stickers, the latest nike shoes, that cute levi jacket, a baseball cap, or an eye popping bright yellow wheelchair. Later when he was old enough it was Don’s service dog Tarella. She was a gorgeous golden retriever/lab cross. People want to make contact in a positive way and if you give them something to relate to it gives them a conversation starter. The dog was such an attraction and source of envy that we had to carry post cards with her picture to give out just to gracefully move on from the crowd that often formed.

When it was time to move into a mainstream kindergarten class we got great advice from the pre-school teacher. We made a video and she or I would go talk to the children about what to expect when Don joined them. We asked Don how he wanted his disability to be described. Out of three or four choices he chose “I have an injury in my brain that makes it hard for my brain to talk to my muscles.” Kids didn’t have too many questions but it definitely helped them t welcome him the next day.  

In first grade Don was up in front of the class and we presented together. No video was needed and they had a lot more questions. I got a chuckle out of “how does he sleep”. I could tell that they did not know how to picture him out of the chair. I asked him what he wanted me to say and they got the idea that he could make decisions like that.  We talked about how much he liked pizza, what his favorite cartoons were and things that let them see that he was just like them, only he couldn’t move the way they could. One of the things I told them was that he had some different ways of communicating and we demonstrated what his “yes” and “no’ sounded and looked like. I challenged them to ask him some yes/no questions right then so they could see how he could answer. Later, I heard some say “do you want to play with me? yes or no?” It was a very fun way to launch him being part of things.

As Don got older there were fewer children at school to introduce to him so most of our talks about disability became at the store or park. I’d watch for the timing, and if a child looked like they were trying to figure Don out I’d ask them if they wanted to ask about why he was in the wheelchair. Most said yes. I’d give a sentence or two and offer some suggestions for how they could play with him.  I was able to help Don be included and overhearing the kids later say “Mom, I played with him and he’s my friend” really made my/our day.  It helped that we were always the ones with the really cool sand toys to share.

I noticed as my children grew older that they worked together to continue to assure that Don had a place in any group. Though she hated crowds his sister even accompanied him to high school dances so he wouldn’t have to have an adult hanging around. It has been a lot of effort to extend ourselves so much but very worthwhile.

Don is by nature far more sociable than me, and he feels completely comfortable now at college age going into a group of people he doesn’t know. As a young adult he doesn’t feel much need to explain himself but he is very articulate if he ever has the need to.



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.  



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:



 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:  


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:–sleep-training-work-