Sorry. I'm just sitting here hoping I can one day remove the question marks from the title of this post.... Sigh.
OK, anyway. First, let me explain a little about what the Anat Baniel Method is. If you're familiar with Feldenkrais, it's like that. If you aren't, let me try to explain it as succinctly as possible.
|Malachi with his two ABM practitioners, |
who occasionally team up to give him therapy.
The method also takes into account the idea — which is today supported by neuroscience — that the human brain has the remarkable ability to become more and more organized (i.e. learn new things), even when damaged. Development does not stop. Ever. That's why you can still learn something new at 8 and at 80.
So, to put it simply, the method works by introducing variation into the movement patterns of children with special needs. It also places emphasis on coordinating and organizing the entire body, bone by bone. As adults this is hard to envision. Because our movements are so engrained, we don't even realize that, for example, in order to reach for a glass of water not just our arm, but our entire spine moves — each and every rib in sequence, etc. But I can tell you from watching Jaden that that is very much what a baby does as he plays. He moves his body in as many ways as he can to figure out what sequence and strength he needs in each muscle to perform a task. To us it just looks like purposeless wiggling. But it's not. (Well, OK. Some of it is.)
Our ABM practitioner has given me a few lessons (I think this is essential if you do it with your child) and here's how I can describe the feeling: Have you ever been somewhere — for example, during a massage — and felt very relaxed? It feels like you are as loose as you are going to get. Then the masseuse pushes on a particular spot or you take a deep breath and suddenly you realize you were holding on to tension you didn't even know was there. You were holding a muscle tight even when you thought you had relaxed it. Once you became aware of the tension, you could release that muscle. That is muscle tone. In my inherently limited understanding of someone without cerebral palsy, that is what it's all about: being unable to control how tight or loose your muscles are. Anat Baniel would say it's because we are unaware of how tight the muscle is. By a practitioner's ability to bring one's focused attention to that muscle, it allows the brain to recognize how it is holding that muscle and form a new pattern, rewriting the old automatic way of doing it.
So that's my understanding of it. Obviously, as with everything else, it's not a panacea and it works better the younger you can possibly start.
But after trying many types of therapy, we do feel like we've found one that really works. There is a clear and definite cause-and-effect relationship between appointments with our practitioner and improvements in Malachi's motor control and mood — something that I can't even say for conventional physical therapy.
I also like that the global philosophy of the method makes sense to me and could even be applied to my life. I've read Anat Baniel's book: Move Into Life, which I thought outlined a fascinating philosophy with broad-ranging applications. (However, I feel obliged to mention that it is a fairly conventional self-help book and didn't necessarily have a lot of specific hands-on applications for Malachi. I hear she is coming out with a new book on special needs children soon. UPDATE 11/30/12: She has and it's fabulous. You can read my review of Kids Beyond Limits here.)
The mechanisms in the method also align with the latest research in neuroscience. And, though we have experienced occasional regression, the results are cumulative.
In fact, we believe in the method so much that it is now our primary form of therapy, with series of twice daily lessons over four days every two weeks. We are even planning an expensive trip (thank you donors!) down to the ABM center in San Rafael in October.
So why, even now, am I reluctant to share with the cerebral palsy community our good news?
I suppose because it's not over yet. I don't have any hard, objective evidence. Malachi is improving, that's true, but he still hasn't reached any of The Important Milestones, like rolling over consistently, sitting up by himself, crawling, standing, walking, etc.
I also don't quite know what to believe. I mean, Anat Baniel — and Moshe Feldenkrais before her — has been doing this for decades and supposedly has had it work "miracles" on people — including getting people who have never been able to walk that ability. I've seen several videos of such people (including this one) who seem to have recovered remarkably.
So where are those people? Why aren't they screaming from the hilltops about their "cure"? Where are the Oprah shows and the 20/20 specials on this amazing method? Why isn't this already an accepted therapy? In fact, ABM folks say it hasn't even earned the research credentials needed to be called a "therapy." It is simply a "method," and as such insurance won't pay for it.
But I guess that's the Catch-22: people don't want to try something that isn't proven and it doesn't get proven until enough people do it that researchers start to take notice. Also in our pharmaceutical-addicted culture, a method that isn't attached to — and in many ways directly challenges — the multibillion-dollar drug industry isn't likely to get funding.
So here's what I know: It's working for us. I have issues with — and have therefore mostly ignored — the part of the method that insists on only allowing a baby to be in a position he or she can get in his- or herself (i.e. no equipment, no conventional therapy UPDATE 11/30/12: I still have issues with this but we don't do conventional therapy or equipment anymore. Here's a little bit of why.). But overall I think ABM is a smart and common sense approach.
And I think you all should look into it, whether or not you are dealing with disability. It's that good.
Update 3/16/12: Anat Baniel's website has been updated and looks much better now.