Monday, July 16, 2012

More answers and more questions after our third ABM therapy trip

We just got back from our third trip to the Anat Baniel Method center in San Rafael, California. As with last time, it was a lovely trip not the least of which because I got to meet my newest little family member and have a homestay with a blog reader and her adorable family.

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.


  1. Sounds like a successful trip in many ways Shasta. I have many of the same thoughts about Feldenkrais as you do as ABM, which isn't surprising considering how related they are. If only all the money and time in the world were available. In the mean time, we all do our best, learning as we go!

    1. Yup. It's hard not to know it all already, but I guess what's the point of living if you knew everything all the time?

  2. I am fascinated, reading about ABM and how much good it has done for Malachi! I know that feeling of "you want me to come how many times and it's going to cost how much?" - we took my daughter 3x/week for chiropractic adjustments for a year (they had a very reasonable lump sum plan but still! We stopped when they stopped being beneficial to us but are thinking of going back at some point). Also, my daughter didn't develop that reflex until she was well over a year and now can catch herself when she falls from sitting and is working on catching herself when she falls from standing (which itself is a brand new skill that is developing every day). I see you mentioned hippotherapy at the end - for us, that's been the most recent gamechanger and I've seen incredible results in just 9 weeks - but I always feel like I'm chasing the next "miracle" therapy too. Just wanted to chime in with my 2 cents (again)!

    1. Cool! I called the hippo therapy place today! Let's see how it goes....

  3. This post makes me really happy because it feels like you transitioned to a new place within yourself. You have a balanced and honest perspective here. This is a very important post and one I hope you share with other ABM followers whenever possible.

    1. Aw, thank you Michele. That means a lot. I try to be as honest as I can... the hard part is figuring out how I really feel and what I really think, the easy part is sharing it with others! ;)

  4. Anonymous5:42 PM

    he is a precious little boy!!!

    1. lol, I always brace myself when I see an anonymous commenter as I worry they will be nasty and they almost always turn out to be sweet, like you.

  5. Ed Dassie10:53 PM

    Great Stuff Shasta! I can remember the feelings you are describing all to well. Keep it up though they get easier to be clear on as you keep practicing them ;-) Great to hear Malachi is responding so well though. In that crawling almost position he looks so happy and ready to take off!!

  6. Anonymous9:24 PM

    Just relating to this post.



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