The following is a story published in the Family Hope Foundation’s December 2019 newsletter describing the journey of Aidan, a 12-year-old boy with various challenging conditions whose family turned to Rene’ Manker and Senses in Motion for help.
The story is followed by a response from Rene’, also published in the newsletter.
“Seeing the Glass Half Full: A Story About Aidan”
Like a little baby bird—skinny and cute—Aidan Wood said hello to the world. The only thing large on his tiny frame was his head, but since big brother had a good-sized noggin, no one was the wiser. It wasn’t until much later that the Wood’s discovered that Aidan’s head circumference at birth was in the hundredth percentile…for three year olds.
The baby years progressed with joyous bliss. Aidan slept great and rarely cried. He didn’t need to be held constantly, in fact, he preferred his swing. This too was an early indicator of things to come. Nearing nine months of age, the babyhood simplicity began to fade.
Delayed milestones weren’t near the forefront of the Wood’s minds until bronchitis became Aidan’s frequent, unwanted friend. An allergist surmised that he was likely aspirating on his formula, causing the respiratory distress. At the same time, she asked if his head size and disjunctive gaze had ever been discussed. Those questions led to CT scans, swallow studies, feeding therapy, thickened liquids, patching eyes, and then two eye surgeries. The Wood’s now knew they were in the elite club of being special needs parents.
All the while, Aidan continued to be his sweet, silly self—wearing adult shoes on his hands and feet, climbing on things, namely his brother, and lounging in laundry baskets.
Early-on services and Ken-O-Sha schooling helped Aidan move forward in his learning and development. While this season of schooling had it’s huge victories, it also came with its harsh challenges. Aidan’s behavior became more reactive and aggressive. His ability to control his bowel movements (Encopresis) caused bad episodes of soiling in his diapers. On top of that, he was still non-verbal, so he couldn’t communicate his needs.
Around age five, the Woods decided to try a different facility for Aidan’s PT and speech therapy. This is when they met their miracle worker René Manker at BRAINS. She used some of her Feldenkreis training with him in physical therapy, and his coordination and balance improved; and so did his toileting skills. However, when René left, they were worried. What would they do without her?
The following years brought more tests and evaluations. The diagnoses added up—Dysphagia and Reflux, malformation of cortical development, Strabismus (which led to the eye surgeries), Hypotonia/Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy (low or diminished muscle tone), Dysarthria (delayed or poor motor planning in the speech and articulation process), chronic constipation and Encopresis, Mood Regulation Disorder, and then at age seven came a new diagnosis—Sensory Processing Disorder, which was considered the culprit for Aidan’s up and down behaviors. Thankfully with help of occupational therapy, Aidan had more tools and coping skills.
By age ten, Aidan’s therapy services were being limited by insurance. The Woods were no longer seeing increasing results with therapies. Aidan’s behavior was growing more volatile at school and at home. Remembering how much progress they saw with René, Aidan’s mother, Amy, decided to try Google. And yes, Google proved helpful. Amy discovered Senses In Motion, a company in which René owned! Unfortunately, she noted that insurance wasn’t accepted there. She knew they couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket.
At this time, Amy had been volunteering for Family Hope Foundation for a couple of years at the Celebration Cinema sensory show times. She hadn’t applied for a scholarship before, but figured it was time to try. The Woods were thrilled when Aidan was awarded funds for ABM (Anat Baniel Method of Neuromovement) therapy with René. This form of therapy has been pivotal in helping Aidan with Dyspraxia. Aidan’s brain struggles to organize the information needed for his body to carry out even simple tasks. With his brain struggling to appropriate information, he finds himself oftentimes frustrated, triggering emotionally reactive behavior. But with ABM therapy, he is making strides in both conceptual and sensory processing and behavioral responses.
After one full year of ABM, Aidan has fewer meltdowns, aggressive behaviors are on the decline, his processing speed is growing, and he is able to learn easier. But most importantly, his silly personality is returning. Through all the trials, hardships, and diagnoses, Aidan has pressed on. It hasn’t been easy for him or his family, but they have all chosen to see the glass full and not empty. They count their blessings, not misfortunes. If the Woods could be summed up in a word it would be—optimistic. It is because of this that Aidan is blooming, and his hilarious nature is shining once more.
“Working with Aidan” — A Response from Rene’
Working with Aidan has been a joy! It is somewhat like unwrapping a package. You don’t really know what is inside, but as you unwrap the layers, a delightful gift is revealed.
Aidan was referred to me by a social worker at BRAINS, with concerns about his behavior that included aggressiveness, regression into baby talk at times, and difficulties with focus and self-control. I am a retired Pediatric Physical Therapist who specialized in Sensory Processing Disorders and I was attracted to the Anat Baniel Method of Neuromovement (ABM) in 2006 after observing a child’s movements who was being treated with this method.
Long story short, I ended up taking the 27-month training in order to use it with the myriad of kids I was working with. Now I use it exclusively, seeing kids with SPD, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Autism, Learning Disabilities, Developmental Delays, Down Syndrome, Dyspraxia, and Apraxia. The ABM philosophy is to begin where the child is.
And so we did.
We worked to get Aidan to sense himself from the inside out, rather than the outside in, which seemed to be causing him to react aggressively in various environments. As I taught his family a technique to map his body, in a way that really connects with his nervous system, it was like Aidan “came online.” He became more interactive, more observant, initiating conversation more, and definitely revealed a great sense of humor. He even started telling jokes.
I found Aidan to be a very sensitive boy emotionally, but also sensitive to light, and sound, and very disorganized in his movements. He has a large head, and he didn’t quite know how to balance it as he moved around his environment. Part of the ABM work is to engage the brain in learning new ways to move the body, by sensing what you do, and then offering variations of that movement to build new neuropathways in the brain, sensing how one body part moves in relation to another. This work is based on the theory of Neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain’s network of neurons uses certain pathways with regularity, and in offering novelty and variations as simple as experiencing a sequence of movements that resemble what you do, the brain can shift to using and developing different neuropathways which expand a person’s repertoire and choice of movement.
For example, we often work on a table that is similar to a massage table. This allows us to reduce the effects of gravity, using the table to support Aidan’s head and posture in such a way that his head is in line with his spine, as I teach him a movement sequence that relates to a function that he would like to learn such as throwing a bean bag. I break down the movements required to throw, such as moving the arm in various directions, and rotating around the spine in side-lying, and turning his head and eyes to look at or away from the hand, and shifting the weight from his pelvis into each leg. He gets to experience this movement in safe, non-threatening ways without gravity affecting his balance and execution. Throwing is complicated, with a lot of moving parts, coordination, and weight shift.
I did not teach Aidan to throw, but rather gave him the experience of what it felt like in his body to throw. Next, we set up a target and got out the bean bags and let the brain put it all together as Aidan sat in upright and threw overhand at the target. And voila! Success, and a huge smile from all of us. As Aidan practiced his throw he added a new element to refine his balance, a step with his opposite foot, just like a baseball pitcher uses. I did not have to teach him this, he just “listened” to his body.
As I read through my notes from the time Aidan and I began to work together in June of 2018, I am amazed at how far he has come by doing 30-minute “movement lessons” once or twice a week. I rely on his mom’s feedback to tell me what new things Aidan is doing each week after a movement lesson, and what functions they need help with.
Here are some of the big changes noted in the first eight weeks:
Aidan spontaneously used the bathroom independently, maintained better eye contact, slept better, even asked to go to bed. This is self-regulation — more relational and more comfortable in the here-and-now rather than relating to the world through his stuffed toys. Aidan is having phone conversations. He is noticing numbers on the signs as he rides in the car. He is reporting on his observations, past and present, and his vocabulary is increasing. He is now willing to explore the playground, moving from area to area on the equipment.
After a year of working together, Aidan continues to learn and expand his interests and is interacting positively in the world. He demonstrates curiosity and is willing to takes some risks in trying new things such as leaping like a frog, and swimming. We have identified many sensory triggers that affect his behavior. He is good at following directions for movement and really likes it when I break things down into smaller steps. He has fewer tantrums indicating much better self-regulation abilities. He displays his kindness streak from time to time, being concerned if mom doesn’t zip her boots, and he reaches down to help her.
All of this, from a child who could barely put on his own shoes.
Aidan used to be in constant motion in order to balance his head over his body. He can now stand still and look at you to have a short conversation. And of course, one of the highlights was helping him achieve his goals of performing a standing long jump, and throwing a ball for the Special Olympics.
The pride Aidan exhibits in these activities is breathtaking.
Aidan has learned to perceive differences, which is what ABM is all about. It has been an honor to watch him blossom as we have unwrapped his gifts. I am eternally grateful for the pioneering work of Dr. Moshe’ Feldenkrais in creating a method of somatic education upon which the Anat Baniel Method is built. Aidan has really responded positively to this work and continues to refine and expand his skills and connect to the world.
Senses in Motion, LLC