Thursday, August 23, 2012

Special Needs Children: 3 ways to go with a heel that won't touch the ground


Change from outside vs. change from inside:
Or: Fixing vs. connection

This happens: a child with cerebral palsy, through great inner desire and perseverance, comes to walk. And yet, the putting their heel to the floor eludes them, so it seems as if they are walking on their toes all the time.

There are at least three ways adults can react to this, three routes to take.

To the rescue: the knife
One route is the surgeon's scalpel, cutting into the Achilles tendon, to allow the heel no recourse but to lower. If we discount what a child goes through in surgery, this seems to solve the heel down problem. But…

Push, prod and correct
Parents and various professionals can try to soften the tissues by “stretching,” or massage, or both. They can try pressing the heel forcefully down to the floor. They can “remind” ( nag, usually, unfortunately) the child with some range of possibility to do what she or he is “supposed to do.”
Braces can be put on the foot, to mold it to “how it should be.”
Again, a step in the right direction it seems, but…

The problem with these
These are all outside forces. They demand and force the change. Not only are they teaching the child, One: there is something wrong with you, and Two: only by outside initiation can any change happen, they tend not to work very well. Stretching, botox, scolding all wear off. Even the surgery often begins to undo after the foot begins to heal from the trauma.

Calling on….the brain.
What if the child in this story is not missing a foot that defaults to a 90 degree angle with the leg, but she is missing a representation in the brain, totally missing a feeling and idea and body awareness sense of what it’s like for a heel to press against the ground? That just doesn’t compute for her.
And if pushed and stretched and prodded, the feeling of touching the floor is always vastly diluted by all the stress and effort going on.
So, here’s the solution in the Anat Baniel Method and the Feldenkrais Method®. The child lies on her back, already a great start from the complexity and demands of walking. And then, instead of pushing and efforting the foot to 90 degrees, a false floor is brought to the foot.

The false floor
A book is held against the child’s foot, exactly at the angle of the foot. Slowly pressing the book against the foot, the whole foot more or less touches at once. Other things are done that make sense from having had a 4 year training, to help deepen this, but you get the idea: the foot feels the way it would if it were “normal” in terms of the contact of the entire foot with the ground.
The brain = the child is now in the picture
Now, the foot, and the brain and the child all begin to expand her idea of what a foot is, and how the heel really is part of the same “story.” Connections with the whole foot and the rest of the body are made.
Ideas and pathways are laid down in the brain with this “whole foot” feeling of the thing at the end of the leg. It’s a delight and a revelation, and the child is smarter, and has one more experience of creating change by creating more awareness.

Awareness is life. Awareness is freedom
This learning will spill over to other movement improvement the child is ready to make.
This learning will “work” not just in movement, but speech and school and play and life. The more differentiation and awareness we have, the more freedom to become and do something different.

What can a parent do?
Bring the child in for lessons.
Watch the lessons, be enthusiastic about small changes, encourage the What Is, of even the most minute improvement. All improvement that involves the brain spills over to almost everything, as mentioned about.

How about the book on the foot?
No, not really.
But parents can remember not to scold. IF THE CHILD COULD DO IT DIFFERENT, THEY WOULD.

And the parents can play with variations of many other things: directions of bringing foot to the mouth, pitch and length and texture of sounds, ways of moving a ball or a toy or a small chair.

Kids Beyond Limits, Anat’s new book!
Read and reread Anat’s book. It’s full of small and non demanding activities that don’t take much time, that create pathways for learning, and maybe best of all, create time and quality for bonding and love between you and your child.

My kids' blog,, too, has many examples of small but significant actions you can take. For example: do anything you usually do at half speed, and make this a game.

Another: follow your own breathing, for your own relaxation, and to create a "vibe" of inner awareness for your child. As above: awareness equals freedom. For you and for your child.

If you haven’t signed up for lessons recently…
Now is a great time to do so.

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