Anat Baniel Method – My Impressions

If I had to summarize the Anat Baniel Method in one word, it would be: Comprehensive. Of all of the modalities I have encountered, I find ABM to be the most complete at addressing the complexities of children with neurological disorders.

The basic premise of ABM is based on the latest discoveries on brain plasticity. It is now known that the brain is like a map, and every bodily and mental function contains physical real estate in the brain. For us to engage in actions there needs to be real estate dedicated to this activity in the brain, as well as a dedicated group of neurons (with many dendrites connected by synapses) able to transfer electrical information in order to perform these activities.

Now let’s start with the fact that most kids with movement disorders have abnormal muscle tone. This abnormal muscle tone prevents them from exploring movement. The absence of these movements prevent pruning of these movements in the brain to take place – use it or lose it. In other words, the potential for us to move is encoded in our genes, but if we don’t use the information, it is pruned out and we lose the capacity. For example, we all have the “wiring” at birth to speak any language – but if we don’t start learning chinese we start losing the neurons dedicated to learning chinese until they disappear completely at about age 12. If we want to learn Chinese at age 12, we then have to recruit other neurons towards the task of learning Chinese – but the original ones were pruned out.

Anat mentioned several times in our meeting that babies don’t “learn” to do things, like sit – they END UP sitting. So you don’t just teach a child how to do something – they start by millions of tiny disorganized movements. As they gain strength and confidence by engaging in these movements they push more and more until they end up in different positions – starting with their sides then their bellies. They keep experimenting until they “end up” in the same position again. By “ending up” there, the brain assigns real estate to these movements and strengthens the connections between neurons to perform these movements. Thus the journey of development progresses.

Now take away all of these millions of involuntary movements and you take away the easy ability for children to end up in those positions. Which means they need help to generate those movements in order to gain the ability to “end up” there.

Anat also mentioned that “will” is a key component to movement. It is essential for the child to do the movement himself – the movement shouldn’t be done for him. She described going for a drive in the car. If you are a passenger and you want to learn how to get from point A to point B, it is really hard to remember if you weren’t the one driving. But if you drive, after following the same route 2 or 3 times it’s pretty easy to remember how to get there. So if a movement is done for the child, the connections made in the brain are too weak, and therefore easily lost. If, however, it is the child who discovers the movement and does it for himself, then he OWNS the movement and therefore it is far more likely that he can remember how to do it in the future.

ABM works first by helping the child create neural maps of all the different parts of the body and how they work in relation to each other. So for example, they would touch the back and then the arm and then perform a movement with the arm. In this way, they were connecting the hand to the back and gaining brain real estate for the connection between these parts. On one instance I heard Sylvie say that Nathan will have a very hard time moving because he doesn’t know where his back is in space or how to move it. And since his extremities are connected to the back it makes any organized functions very difficult. They did a lot of work on his back, helping him to feel his back and to initiate movements in his back. This should unlock other movements.

I think by teaching Nathan some of these movements they were suggesting ways that he can use his body. The idea is that these suggestions leave a mark on the brain, which Nathan then has to access and strengthen by engaging in these actions himself. If he never uses these connections I imagine these imprints will be lost or difficult to access. But if he practices and builds on them, then they become more and more accessible.

As he starts to move functionally, the brain gains greater neurological organization, which then helps with other functions such as speech, cognition, memory, muscle tone, etc. Anat even suggested that greater neurological organization could eventually lead to integration of infant reflexes, as these become integrated a the cortex becomes more organized.

In other words, I feel stupid that I never realized what a crucial piece of the puzzle we were missing.

We always thought that at some point Nathan would “figure out” how to roll. That if we rolled him he would then be able to do it himself. Or if we put him in quadruped and walked him through the motions of crawling he would then be able to crawl. But there are so many small movements incorporated in all of these big movements that we completely ignored! In order to roll from back to belly, he needs to be able to turn his head and pelvis, move his arm, to move his arm he first has to be able to relax it, he has to engage his back, etc. And, since he never moved normally, he doesn’t know how to do these!

At the ABM center they worked on teaching Nathan how to override his muscle tone. They taught him what it felt like to relax his arms, hands and legs. How to move his pelvis to the sides. How to push up with his arms. How to contract his neck muscles to pick up his head and hold it in midline. Again, all tiny movements that weren’t mapped in Nathan’s brain. And in 4 years we had never taught him the little movements because we thought he would figure out the little movements as part of engaging in the big movements. But the information was just not available in his brain!

ABM I believe will create the brain maps that he needs to use his body more effectively. I think it’s a very powerful method. Anat’s method is based on Feldenkrais, and what’s incredible is that at the time that Moshe started teaching, brain plasticity was not scientifically known or proven. It is only now, 50 or so years later, that brain mapping and plasticity is a known fact, supporting the premise for this work.

I believe that ABM will be key in helping Nathan gain greater awareness of his body, how to move, how to override primitive brain functions, and how to function better in all areas.

Will we stop everything else? Now that’s something we can talk about tomorrow!

Comments

  1. I expect the answer to your question to be ‘no’. 🙂 And whatever you decide – you have made endless, many good decisions for Nathan.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, Marcela. You (and Owen) are not stupid.

    You give a very nice explanation here – which will help others. For others, I just want to say that an (expensive) ABM intensive is not the only means to achieving the neural growth that Marcela described. Albeit, it is slower to obtain via traditional OT & PT as dosed. Intensives are showing themselves to be very effective.

    AB has systematized her therapy practices with parent education. Very good for those who can pay to see her or her trainees. (Same for Ramon.)

    Thanks so much for sharing what you are learning for Nathan. Barbara

  2. I love the car analogy! Great summary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. http://Tara says

    Thank you so much for such a comprehensive discussion of AB’s method!

    Tara

  4. http://Tina says

    Hi, I love your blog and want to share some info. I have a kid with mild CP and did extensive reading on brain plasticity. I found that providing a child with incentives to do what I want them to do (i.e. movement) works wonders. Also reinforce with verbal cues no matter what anyone says. For instance my kid had a stiff right arm. My PT directed me to check with my OT. In desperation, I started moving my kid’s arms myself as a fun exercise and lo and behold – when she realized that she could move it, (she was 2 at the time) she started doing it on her own. I then gave her incentives, like giving her a cup of juice or something she wanted, always keeping it in a position that I wanted the arm to move in – and now she just walks and runs and bounces around like any 4 year old. I am so proud of her. I plan to start a blog to document all the things I’ve done. But do email me if you have any queries and I’d be happy to share them with you. I found that there are lots of things we can do in the everyday home environment to move our kids along. Especially since I totally agree with your being in balance startegy. I’ve been there…..and have tried ABM and feldenkrais and Medek – which by the way I think works wonderfully. My kid learned to walk thru Medek….

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