New Possibilities for Children on the Autism Spectrum

New Possibilities for Children on the Autism Spectrum

I’ll never forget the first time a child on the Autism Spectrum showed up in my office, over twenty years ago. Chase was three years old. He did not speak, did not respond to language. He did not even respond to his name. Nothing seemed to grab his attention, not even music. He roamed about without any apparent intent. Chase had no diagnosis at the time. For his doctors and parents he was a mystery.

I was able to reach Chase and help him.  After his first couple of sessions he began responding to music and over time learned to talk and interact with others. He became a musician and a lovely, socially integrated young man.

The principles underlying the dramatic changes and improvements Chase experienced are actually quite simple and apply to every child, including  children on the autism spectrum:

  1. The brain is the CEO of us. It organizes and controls all of our movements, intentions, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions.
  2. Positive change (and also negative change) is possible in any human being at any age.
  3. Positive change hinges on the ability of the brain to change itself for the better.
  4. Because the brain is self-organizing information system, it needs new and useful information to change and improve.
  5. The source for information for the brain is through the perception of differences. 

This last point is of utmost importance. It is not until a child feels and perceives a difference, be it in what they hear, see, smell, or feel in the movement of their body, that their brain “gets” that this difference and the distinct components creating the difference are there.  You and I may clearly hear the difference between different sounds and words, such as ‘water’, ‘wagon’ and ‘warm’. But if it all sounds like ‘bzrrrwmasnnnzzzzz’ to the child, he or she will be unable to decipher what you’re attempting to communicate. It’s all just noise. 

You may have had the experience of spending countless hours with your child trying to get him to gain skills that he is lacking with results that fall short of what you were hoping for. That does not mean that your child is unintelligent. It only means that you somehow need to find ways to help your child’s brain perceive differences it is unable to perceive right now. These perceived differences flood the brain with information he needs to be able to learn what you want him to learn.

Each of the Nine Essentials of the Anat Baniel Method is designed to help wake up the brain, providing it with the conditions it needs to very quickly begin perceiving differences it couldn’t perceive before, and thus be able to learn skills that seemed unattainable before.

The first and most foundational Essential is Movement With Attention. Movement is the “language” of the brain. It helps the brain grow and form. But automatic, or passive movement brings little change in the brain. When the child is attentive to what they feel as they move -- the brain begins forming new connections at a staggering rapid rate, which it can integrate as new learning. The Second Essential is Slow. Fast, the brain can only do what it already knows.  Slow gets the brain’s attention and provides the time for the child to feel themselves and for the brain, once again, to notice differences and get new information to work with. The third Essential is Variation. That means, rather than trying to have the child do whatever you’re working with her on the “right way”, find instead ways of doing the same thing in many different ways. This provides the brain with lots of opportunity to perceive differences and get the information it needs to improve.

Here are five things you can do with your child using these three Essentials:

  1. 3-4 times a day observe what your child is doing; then begin guiding him to move slower. With your touch and words gently direct their attention to notice what they are feeling as they move. You can say things like, “Your arm is now up. Oh, and now it came down.” (Do not ask them what they are feeling.)
  2. When you move your child, such as when you change her diaper or when you help him with certain exercises, instead of doing moving quickly and in an automatic fashion, slow the movements way down and reduce the force with which you do the movements. Or guide your child to do the movements in the same slow and gentle way. Note how they spontaneously begin paying attention to what they feel.
  3. When you try to have your child do something, for example, to say certain words, begin varying the sounds and pronunciation.
  4. Before doing academic tasks with your child, have your child do 5 minutes of movement -- any movement -- and guide her to notice what she’s doing and feeling as she moves. That will help her brain perform better at the academic learning.
  5. Whenever you observe that your child is having a hard time following your instructions or requests, slow yourself and your child way down and bring in lots of variations and watch your child spontaneously becoming more intelligent.

To learn more about the Anat Baniel Method and the Nine Essentials and watch videos of our work with children go to our website: www.anatbanielmethod.com

Anat Baniel will be holding a Mini Workshop in Los Angeles May 5th at the Marriot Airport Hotel.  Tickets are $40 and you receive a copy of her book and 2 day Parent workshop. For more information please visit http://www.anatbanielmethod.com/whats-new#LAMay5  

Photo by Boa-sorte&Careca

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