Before going, I was feeling pretty down about ABM and Malachi's progress, since we have passed his second birthday with very little gross motor progress. Maybe I'm just deluding myself, I wondered.
But the trip did prove to be modestly successful. I noticed the most change in what the practitioners are now able to do with Malachi. It was only at the end of our trip in May that Malachi had changed enough for me to be able to recognize the skills they were working on, most notably getting his hand to spontaneously catch himself from falling. (By the way, I've previously read in a physical therapy book that if this so-called "parachute reflex" is not developed by one year of age it will never manifest. With the help of ABM, Malachi is proving this to not be true.)
During this trip, several positions they were able to put him in comfortably brought tears to my eyes. For example:
|Senior ABM Practitioner Sylvia Shordike working with Malachi in San Rafael.|
There is so much great stuff about this picture. Malachi's belly is soft, his knees are bent, his hips and lower back are supporting his weight and his hands are flat, with fingers extended. He is clearly not struggling or "working hard" in the traditional sense, something that mainstream PT seems to value. He is relaxed and learning about the possibilities contained in his body just like children the world over do naturally. It is moments like this that make me certain that ABM is the right path for him.
Other improvements were in the quality of his rolling over — it just looks so much more graceful now and he can get onto his tummy more easily. In the last lesson of the week, the practitioner had both of his arms straight above him — a feat in and of itself — while she rolled him ever so slowly back and forth. It was smooth as melted butter. I've also started stepping up my expectations of him and now require him to roll to his side and tuck his chin down before I pick him up and several times I've seen him "help" me by pushing off the ground with one of his hands. I would say he's about 80 percent of the way towards being able to do it by himself, and the more we practice, the better he'll get.
This was also the first trip in which we had an appointment with Anat Baniel herself. Like many great masters, she makes her craft look easy. In fact, coupled with her intense personality, I had to bite back a smile as I realized to a layperson it might look like she was simply a stern Israeli mother figure:
"What is this? What are you doing? Stop slouching. Don't you know how to use your back? Here, it's like this: bend here, arms down, straighten there. See? Good. Doesn't that feel better? Now, sit like that from now on."
This is of course not — at least not entirely ;-) — what she is doing, as evidenced by the fact that it works.
But this was also a trip in which I felt my understanding of what ABM is and what it isn't matured. Namely, it's not a miracle. At least not any more than penicillin or any other medical advance is. It is producing results in Malachi that experts will soon realize are not actually impossible and has done so for many other children. In fact, I happened to meet one as we exited our appointment with Anat. He looked to be in his late teens, he wore a helmet* and had slightly slurred speech, but otherwise moved easily. His mother said doctors told her he would never walk or talk and she urged me to disregard their evaluations of what my son will "never" do.
But like I said, it's not a miracle. It's not going to happen overnight. It will take lots of lessons, apparently even into Malachi's late teens and perhaps beyond. The schedule that Anat proposed to us to build on Malachi's momentum this summer would cost nearly $18,000. In our particular financial situation, that is a laughable amount of money. Already we have spent huge sums. Each appointment at the ABM Center is about 10 times more expensive than our co-pay for traditional PT, but is it 10 times better? I don't know if I can say that.
However, I hope you don't think that I've drunk the Kool-Aid when I say that I do actually believe if we had all the money in the world, we could take him to lessons all the time and he would quickly improve. But being part of the 99 percent as we are, I have to do a complicated calculus to figure out what combination of ABM and other expenditures will give Malachi the most opportunity and independence. It could be that an after-school program or a summer camp or a college education will give him much more satisfaction than walking. Even within the "cure" quest, it could be that some combination of ABM with hippotherapy, gentle PT, homeopathy and several other options I've considered would be best.
It's a continual search for the "best" for my kid. I suppose in that way, I'm not so different from typical parents.
* I don't know anything about this person's case, but it is not uncommon for people with CP to have extreme startle responses that cause them to collapse at an unexpected noise. It is for that reason some wear helmets.