Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Make Falling Down Fun and Educational



I'm really excited about a game my son came up with, recently.

He thinks it's hilarious to fall down.

Now, you wouldn't think I would be especially stoked about that. After all, he could hurt himself. But I feel like this is an exciting opportunity because it's turning learning how to fall into something fun.

The Anat Baniel Method, our primary form of therapy, talks about falling down as being a very important part of learning to move. If children don't know how to fall down safely, they are paralyzed with fear about moving. In fact, ABM describes walking as falling down and catching yourself with your feet. This makes a lot of sense to me when I watch babies move. They lead with their head and lean towards interesting things. When they lean far enough off their center of gravity, they either fall on their face, or catch themselves with their hands (crawling) or feet (walking).

So I was excited when Malachi started thinking falling down onto me from standing or sitting was really funny. I think this could be an "in" for getting him to learn about how his body interacts best with gravity.

The game we have come up with is he holds on to the bottom dresser drawer while sitting with his legs in various positions.

I guess I should stop and explain this part of the game. A couple months ago, I asked him if he wanted to be sitting "W-style." This is where you sit on your bottom with your knees on the floor in front of you and your feet behind you. He loves letters and the alphabet, so he quickly asked to be "X-style," the next letter of the alphabet. I put him in "criss-cross applesauce" and he laughed and asked for "Y-style" and on and on. Now it's become our mission to figure out sitting positions for all the letters of the alphabet. Once we finish, I think it could be a really cool children's alphabet book. And yes, I'm working on it.

Back to the falling game. So, Malachi holds on to the dresser drawer and asks for a certain sitting style. I put a tall stack of pillows on one side and a single pillow on the other side, then I sit behind him. This way he can choose if he wants to fall a long way or a little way. It also gives him an opportunity to realize how to get himself back up onto the drawer from the tall stack.

So, he holds on to the drawer and says "I'm falling!" or "I'm so afraid!" or "Oh no!" while giggling. I ask him if he wants to fall on the tall pillow or the short pillow or on me. He then tries to position himself so that when he lets go, he falls on his chosen surface. Sometimes he falls where he wants to, sometimes he doesn't, but he is enjoying himself and learning about his body, so I think it's pretty great.

Another thing that is pretty great? While playing this game, he occasionally lets go and doesn't fall for a few seconds. You know what that is? That's sitting independently. Heck yes! Talk about turning "failure" into success!

Now, if I can come up with a game where the object is to catch yourself with your hands, we will be off to the races!



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Looking for a meaningful gift? Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White is a beautiful and insightful board book available here. All profits go towards my son's medical needs. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Have A Walking Walker Who Walks!! (And How We Got There)

It's been eight months since we took this video:

(video)



A few months later, we received a donated Mulholland Walkabout of our very own to use at home. Despite our preferred therapy of the Anat Baniel Method (ABM) being generally against equipment like walkers, we did use it at home.

Malachi would stand in it and go... pretty much nowhere.

I was very conscious of not wanting to push him to walk in it. This was a concession to an ABM tenant, which I do believe. It goes something like this: people don't like to be pushed to do things. The more you push, the more they will resist and the less they will do it when you are not there to push. This includes kids.

But, you say, I forced my kid through kicking and screaming to do piano lessons at 4 and now he's a virtuoso!

Well, the vast majority of kids who are forced to do piano lessons (or whatever) quit as soon as they are able. The ones who keep going? They do it because they want to, either because they found a way for it to be fun or because they want to please you. That's it. So, if you *really* want your kid to be a piano virtuoso — and be happy doing it — find a way to make the piano fun and they will practice on their own.

But, you say, life is hard work! Kids should learn how to do things they don't want to do. 

To that I say, kids should learn how to do things they don't want to do only if it is in pursuit of a goal of something they do want to do. Hey there, sport, is it your deepest dream to become a piano virtuoso? Yes? Then by golly, let's play the crap out of that piano. Would you rather be an airplane pilot? Sweet! In that case, let's spend hours learning all about instrument flight ratings. Working hard at something you don't want to do to get to more hard work that you don't want to do just becomes a never-ending defeatist, depressing cycle.

Ya dig?

So, I tried — as much as my own psychology would allow — to only put Malachi in the walker when he wanted to be in it and take him out when he said he was done. While I did ensure certain activities — like watering the plants or "playing" Dance Central on the Wii — were associated with being in the walker, I tried really hard not to push him to walk in it.

For months, I fiddled with settings and footwear; I lugged it to children's museums and splash pads; I interrogated moms and therapists. All to no avail. The most Malachi would do is inadvertently twirl it around and be really upset about it.

By the end, the conclusion I felt most likely was that it was my fault. Even though I was trying really hard not to treat the walker like a big deal, he could clearly sense that I wanted him to use it. I was putting too much pressure on him and he didn't want to try and fail.

(Corroborating evidence to this effect is in JJ's continued refusal to make even the slightest effort towards learning how to get dressed by himself. We're working on it.)

But one day — in a fit of WTF??? rage — I showed the above video to my husband and he said: "Yeah, that's really weird that he could walk in it before." Then he said: "Look, his shoulders are in front of his body."

Oh. I didn't think about that. I was too busy blaming myself for bad parenting.

The very next day, I loosened the top strap so that Malachi's upper body sort of hung on it, instead of strapping him in tight and secure like I had been doing.

He took off immediately. 

It wasn't all swelling music and tears of joy though. He would get his feet stuck together and start to freak out, so to get his mind off what he was doing, I grabbed a soft, stuffed ball and "threw it" (handed it) to him and got him to walk a few paces to me to give it back. We played "hall ball" all over the place for 15 minutes. Here's him at the end of all this, the FIRST TIME he was able to walk around at home by himself.

(video)


Do you hear what he's saying? "Walk! Turn around!" He knew exactly where he was going and how to get there. (By the way, where he was going is the oven to check the clock. The kid loves numbers.)

Two weeks later, I took him to Target to try him out in a larger, yet familiar space. The kid was RUNNING:



Just a few short weeks ago, I was feeling pretty hopeless. I posted in an ABM forum asking if people whose kids couldn't sit up independently before age 2 ever acquired the ability to walk, either supported or not. Conventional medical studies say no. Several people on the ABM forum said yes.

Still. I was doubtful that Malachi would ever independently move around in anything but a power wheelchair.

Today, I feel like I have a whole new horizon for Malachi. He is getting more and more capable in his walker and learning so much about how to move in a physical plane. He can stop, back up a little, turn either direction and is walking much straighter. (It's worth noting that all of his practice is at grocery stores and malls, flat, well-lit places he considers to be fun and functional.)

This has translated into much more bravery and independence with his electric car, his crawler and independent floor movement.

I am trying hard now to avoid beating myself up for not loosening the top strap eight months ago. Malachi is doing so well in the walker, but I can also see how he is developing some bad habits and incorrect assumptions about how his body interacts with gravity, such as toe-walking. I think it was good for him to have those eight months to roll around on the ground, learning about his spine, and to practice pulling to stand beautifully on flat feet with my help.

I do feel like we will be able to weave current skills like flat feet into his walking habits eventually. But even if he does acquire lifelong bad habits that will stunt his development later, as ABM contends, I feel like it's time for our family to broaden our focus away from pure physical development and towards social and emotional development. Now that he is in preschool, I think it is the perfect time for him to start being independently upright even though he can't get there by himself yet.

So, I may not totally agree with ABM's interdiction against using equipment, but I do agree that the key to success is working smarter, not harder.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Moms Speak Out on Shocking Lack of Cerebral Palsy Research

Today is World Cerebral Palsy Day and to celebrate, Ellen of LoveThatMax.com got many of us who blog about our kids with cerebral palsy together to talk about the shocking lack of research money that goes towards cerebral palsy, especially when compared to other neurological and childhood ailments. 

Here's what I had to say on the matter when Ellen asked me for a quote. Head on over to her blog to read more of the facts on cerebral palsy research and what you can do about it!

I was frankly shocked to learn how little of the money people donate towards "Cerebral Palsy" goes to cerebral palsy medical research. It's such a huge population of children with disabilities — something many organizations purport to aid — and yet so very little is being done to understand and treat this condition.
Part of me feels like this is an institutional bias against children with brain injuries versus adults with brain injuries. With an adult who has a stroke, say, it's easy to imagine the function they had and the function they could have again with proper treatment and care. But with a child, it's much easier to brush it off as: "They were born that way, so that's the way they'll always be" and never put the necessary resources towards rehabilitation.
There is so much exciting neuroscience out there now about how to tap into the brain's potential to rewire around damage, but it's taking an excruciatingly long time to trickle down to children with cerebral palsy because, I believe, those children and those young parents have very little time and money to address it on a national scale.
Instead, many of us are paying thousands, if not tens of thousands, every year to do what medical science refuses to — find treatments that work.

Please do what you can to spread awareness of this issue to your friends, family and representatives!

Jessie Kirk Photography

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