How ABM Works for Cerebral Palsy

“Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by injury or abnormal development in the immature brain. In general, cerebral palsy causes impaired movement associated with exaggerated reflexes or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteadiness of walking, or some combination of these. (The Mayo Clinic)

Cerebral palsy comes from a problem with the brain – not the muscles. That is why the Anat Baniel Method (ABM) techniques that I use make a positive difference.

A typical child (without Cerebral Palsy (CP)) learns about the world through random movement. When you look at a typical baby, the baby is moving constantly and with ease. By doing so, the baby learns what works and what doesn’t work in order to function.

Unlike a typical baby, a child with CP has limited random movement, so he does not easily and does not naturally learn about himself and his body in space. Because he does not learn about his body and how it moves in space, his brain’s map of his body is incomplete. This leads to difficulty matching his intended movement to his actual movement. Because a child’s intention and resulting action do not match, he experiences himself in the world in a way that is less organized than the typical child. His sense of the world and how to be in the world are compromised.

For example, a child with CP may move both his legs together, not separately, because spasticity forces the two legs to always move together. So, his brain does not get the feedback from two legs moving independently and randomly that helps the typical child learn that he has two legs. Without a brain map of two separate legs it is difficult for a child with CP to learn how to turn, how to sit, how to balance, how to deal with gravity, and how to walk.

In my ABM lessons, I give the child with CP the ability to learn the information that a typical child gets automatically. I help his body move in ways that are akin to random movement and thus mimic the natural way of learning. This movement improves the signals that are sent to the brain and facilitates the brain to do what it is naturally designed to do, make sense of the world.

Recent scientific research supports this theory. We now know that the brain learns by making new neural connections. Changes and new neural connections take place in the brain when it is able to receive and make sense of information. The Anat Baniel Method is designed to awaken the brain so these changes can occur.

How does ABM cause this awakening and make the brain a better learner?  The elements of ABM–such as movement with attention, slow movement, movement with variation and flexible goals–stimulate the brain through the signals these movements send to it. The brain goes, “Hey, this is different. I want to pay attention to this movement.”  This painless/struggle free awareness is transformed into new brain pathways.

In my work with children with CP, I always start from where the child is currently functioning. A child cannot learn when he is forced to do movements that are not connected to where he already is. So each gentle movement is something he can recognize, relate to, and perceive as something interesting. It’s close enough to his current functioning that his brain can naturally integrate it.

ABM is different from the physical therapy (PT) most kids experience. PT repeats movements that may have no meaning to the brain whereas ABM is all about providing meaning to the brain and allowing natural learning to occur. As an added benefit, the techniques are so subtle and comfortable, the person with CP has a chance to relax – a rare occurrence for many people with CP.

-Lisa R. Shusterman, Ph.D