The joy of seeing your child stand for the first time is so exciting!
For parents of special needs kids, who have been told that their child might never learn to stand or walk, the feeling is indescribable. Sleepless nights, worry, tears, heartache and hours and hours of therapy have been invested into creating this moment.
But if some treacherous thought in the back of your mind is asking… Is standing in a stander really standing?
You are not alone.
There is NO doubt that using a stander has many, many benefits (it can help with digestion, aid in social situations, etc). Each family needs to decide when and where using a stander is appropriate and useful for their own child, but the most obvious reason we use standers, is because we want our children to stand!
So, What is Standing?
Bearing your body weight on your feet, through your bones.
Where Bearing Weight, can be defined as the body working against the force of gravity.
What Standing is NOT...
Standing is NOT static.
Give it a try yourself and see how long you can stand still for.
Like, really stand still.
Just the motion of breathing, creates a chain reaction of itty-bitty movements as your muscles expand to inhale air into your lungs, causing a shift of the weight of your bones, so you can stay balanced in an upright position.
Standing is complex. It’s dynamic.
It’s also something that can’t be taught, but rather is learned through experience.
Neuro-typical babies aren’t "taught" how to stand. Instead, they experiment themselves for over a year. They experiment with counterbalancing their body weights in space and how to work against gravity, until their brains figure out a way for them to do this really fun and cool thing called standing. Where they get to see fun, new things and reach higher.
Leave a neuro-typical baby to their own devices and they will come to standing all on their own.
What happens if your child missed all those wonderful experiences of moving and wiggling and experimenting?
My own daughter lay quiet and content on the floor for over 8 months before she even rolled over. She didn’t have the same random movements her older sister had. Those crazy, arm flailing, foot kicking movements that neurotypical babies have. They can look super adorable and sometimes a bit funny and result in suddenly finding a finger to suck on, or stare at, or end up in strange contortions.
Those seemingly random movements are sending an enormous amount of information to their developing brains.
As a baby kicks the side of the crib, their brain collects the info of how long his leg is, how heavy his leg is, how hard he needs to kick, what happens when he kicks, etc.
Those random movements are tiny science experiments testing out the laws of physics.
And growing brains gobble the data up, then organize it into something useful (like bringing that toy to her mouth to chew on!).
My youngest daughter, due to her genetic disorder, didn’t have those random baby movements. She missed out on all those rich experiences. There were no physics experiments. No learning where her body began and ended. No learning about how her physical body could interact with gravity.
Without that foundation, how in the world could I expect her to stand, just because I placed her in standing???
Which I did, because I didn’t know any better, and I even let professionals place her in standing. Those are moments I regret.
I remember trusting the professionals, yet seeing the fear on my baby-girl’s face.
She was terrified.
She felt unsafe in standing. She couldn’t support herself, the fear of falling overrode everything.
As it should!
It is a sign of a healthy brain to be scared of falling.
Can a brain be in fear AND learn at the same time?
Forced to stand up before she was ready, all of my daughter's muscles were tensed to the max. She expected to fall.
Because her brain KNEW that it had no idea HOW to keep her upright.
Her brain was not in learning mode.
It was in survival mode.
Her muscles were tight to prevent an injury when she fell. Her brain was doing a fabulous job of keeping her safe. But that certainly wasn't the outcome either me or the therapist were going for.
I shudder now to think of all the missed opportunities and what-ifs.
Thankfully, I stumbled across ABM soon after that therapy session. I watched Youtube videos of Anat Baniel gently guiding children through slow and gentle movements.
There were no tears. No fear.
It looked peaceful. Insightful. Curious. Joyous.
I wanted my daughter to experience THAT.
I wanted to learn how to do that.
A NeuroMovement practitioner connects with your child wherever they are at in their developmental stage. The emphasis is on a safe learning environment so the child has the opportunity to explore variations to their own movement patterns.
It worked so well for my daughter (she now walks, runs and recently learned to jump), that I became a NeuroMovement practitioner.
But you don’t have to become a practitioner, (although I highly recommend it!!) to give your own child the same opportunities to explore bearing weight at home.
I will be posting some videos to show you simple things you can do at home to explore bearing weight without standing.
January is the time to reflect on the past year (what a wild ride that was!) and make plans for the New Year.
A fresh year lies ahead!
How do you want it to be different?
What goals would you like to achieve?
What resolutions did you make?
As a mom of a special needs child, setting goals actually makes me cringe. Too many professional assessments and IEP meetings will do that to you. Plus after learning about Flexible Goals from Anat Baniel, my views about goal setting has changed so much.
Having goals and dreams are important, but sometimes goals can become rigid and force you to do things in a specific way to obtain a specific goal.
Rigid goals can be dangerous territory for learning brains!
My ultimate goal for my daughter (and my students) is a learning brain.
My end goal is for my child to be able to adapt to change.
Forcing her to accomplish a certain task in only one specific way, teaches her ONLY that one specific way. If a variable is added in, she's lost.
For example if my goal is to "teach" my daughter how to hold a pencil "properly". I'd have to do some really hard thinking about what a proper pencil hold is and whether that specific way would be the most useful for her throughout her entire life. It sounds like a heck of a lot of pressure. There are so many variables to consider.
Think about how you hold a pencil.
These are subtle changes that most people can easily adapt to, and aren’t even aware that they are doing, but HUGE adaptations for stroke survivors or children with special needs learning to write.
By teaching them ONE rigid way (through mindless repetitions), you take away their ability to adapt to change.
That’s the beauty of the Anat Baniel Method. It focuses not on the end goal (such as holding a pencil with a "proper pencil grip"), but instead explores all the rich variations of how the task could be possible.
There are so many different options for a pencil grip.
(Tight grip, loose grip, using different fingers, different papers, different orientations, etc.)
By allowing the child to experience the many variations and allowing them the TIME to play and experiment, it gives the brain a rich source of experience to draw from.
Which can be quite a different approach than what happens in a traditional one hour of OT/PT. This is frustrating because life doesn't happen with the exact same circumstances of a controlled therapy environment (as anyone with children will understand!).
Hold Goals Loosely
Think of goals as being fluid.
Creativity (and learning!) happen spontaneously. Not under time deadlines or specific criteria. Would a musical genius compose an opera only on Tuesdays with a 1 hour timer beside him?
True learning happens when your brain gathers up experiences and organizes it into something useful.
The more experiences, the more your brain has to work with. Adding constraints of time along with lack of variety, can kill real learning faster than you can say “resolution”.
So, what should one do?
1. Have Flexible goals.
Be much more curious about the journey.
It sure would be nice to get to your goal X. But how many ways could you get there? Have some fun and find out!
2. Don’t set a time limit.
It took Jill Bolte Taylor 8 years before she considered herself fully recovered from her stroke. What mindset would she have and what life would she be living today if she had only given herself 4 years?
Curiosity and experience take time. And not a certain allotment of time, but meandering, soft time, without pressure or expectations.
Which is very, very hard to do in our culture!
But it can be done with a little awareness and some flexible goals.
So what are your New Year’s resolutions and how can you add flexibility to them?
I am super thrilled to be partnering up with Leanne Scott of Move Therapies located in Osoyoos, BC for regular Intensives. She's an amazing practitioner and I am so looking forward to working with her. And I am REALLY looking forward to having her work with my daughter.
What is an Intensive?
The NeuroMovement® approach of the Anat Baniel Method, usually works best for kids with special needs when the lessons are grouped together in 'chunks'.
Think of 4 lessons over 2 days (2 lessons per day) once a month, instead of one lesson per week.
By grouping the lessons together, the child's brain has an influx of quality information to build upon during those 4 days. During the days and weeks after, expect new changes to happen as their nervous systems incorporate the new information into functional changes. This is when things get exciting!
Often the week after an intensive, you will notice some fun changes in your child. More communication, more engagement, better sleep, better coordination, less spasticity, new milestones, etc.
The changes can keep appearing 1-3 weeks after the intensive. Most then notice a plateau in new developments around week 4-5 and that's when you want to have the next intensive booked.
Our First Intensive
Our first collaborative intensive will be happening Dec 28/29, 2016 in Osoyoos, BC. Stay tuned for when we will be having one in Harrison Hot Springs!
Working with another practitioner is super exciting for me, but sooooo very beneficial for the kids.
Each child gets two lessons per day, one with me and one with Leanne. Having two different pracititoners gives such great variation and feedback for the child and each practitioner has their own unique style and personlity.
I know from experience from watching lessons with my daughter that it's a joy for your child to experience the richness of a variety of quality practitioners. Each one connects in their own unique way with the kids and you never know what information each child will gain from them.
Jen Stewart is a mommy of 3 amazing kids and a practitioner of NeuroMovement™