Written By Lara Gillease
A healthy infant and young child spends most of his time exploring movement and learning to move in new ways like rolling over, going from lying to sitting, crawling, talking, self-feeding, standing, and walking.
A special needs child can face huge challenges in learning to do movements and actions. As a parent, one major goal is to help your child learn how to do new things, as well as to recognize and support that learning when it is happening.
First, it is important to know about two kinds of movement your child does. Both are essential to functioning and learning:
1) Movement done Automatically is when you do a movement that is habitual or move without thinking about it. Like getting out of bed in the morning. You don’t have to try to learn how to get out of bed each morning – you already know how and just do it. You are making little or no new connections in your brain.
2) Movement with Attention is when you are exploring how you are moving and paying attention to your sensations and the feelings that are generated. When you move with attention, you’re expanding your brain’s ability to form new neural connections, or in other words, learning.
Anat Baniel, the founder and director of the Anat Baniel Method (ABM) NeuroMovement identified what is present when someone learns. They are known as “The Nine Essentials.” Movement with Attention is one of these Essentials.
It is important to note that the ‘Attention’ part of Movement with Attention is about your child paying attention, not to you or a teacher, but rather paying attention to his own inner experience of himself.
As a parent, you can learn to recognize when your child is actively moving with attention.
4 Ways You Know Your Child is Engaged in Doing the Movement with Attention Essential:
1) Your child is being joyful and playful. You notice that your child is acting happy and playful – as if you were playing a game with her.
2) You are holding an object, such as a toy, and as you move it, your child follows the movement of the object with his eyes and head so he can keep looking at the object. Your child can be in any position, like sitting or lying.
3) The child has what looks like an inner stare in her eyes. In other words, the child looks off into space without blinking.
Many parents think the child is “checked out” when this happens and will often try to get the child’s attention by excitedly calling her name. Because this “staring” is a potent learning moment where the brain is flooded with new information, it is beneficial to just allow it happen. It is an extremely potent learning time. To distract the child would stop that process for her.
4) You notice the child anticipates participating in some way.
For instance, what if I was playfully moving a child’s arm and then I stopped? If that child then reached her arm toward me for me to move it again, or she tried to move it in the same way, this would be an example that she is anticipating and participating.
Babies usually learn to roll over from their back to their belly for the first time because they are looking at a toy or object, in front of her or beside her, that then moves slowly in an arc above her head. She keeps the object in view. As she moves her eyes and head to keep seeing the toy, she starts lengthening more on one side and arching her back until this rolls her onto her belly.
If you observe your child doing any of these four activities, then your child is learning through Movement with Attention. She is paying attention to her inner experience of herself and her sensations as she moves. She is forming new neural connections in her brain and she is learning big time!
Lara Gillease is an Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement Practitioner/Teacher and Teacher Trainer to certify practitioners in ABM NeuroMovement. She teaches special needs children and infants how to learn to do new things, become better learners and start thriving. To learn whether the special needs child in your life could benefit, set up a Free Get Acquainted Call with Lara by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also learn more about the Anat Baniel Method’s Nine Essentials by reading Anat Baniel’s book, “Kids Beyond Limits”, which gives much greater detail about Movement with Attention and the other Nine Essentials. Geared toward parents and caregivers, it is an informative, easy-to-read handbook that gives parents of special needs children tools on how to recognize and support their child’s learning.