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EXERCISES TO HELP YOUR CHILD
Therapy for Behavior Problems, Learning Problems, ADD and Autism.
By Svea Gold
THE FOLLOWING IS ADAPTED FROM THE INSTRUCTIONS TO VOLUNTEERS WHO WORKED WITH OUR AT-RISK CHILDREN - SOME OF WHOM WERE AUTISTIC. THE TECHNIQUES ARE EFFECTIVE FOR THE VAST RANGE OF AUTISTIC BEHAVIORS FROM COMPLETE WITHDRAWAL TO ADD.
(All the exercises are illustrated, along with the complete rationale and instructions, in our video "Autism Neurological Research and Neurodevelopmental Therapy", which can be ordered from this website)
EXPLAINING THE EXERCISES TO THE CHILD
Before we start working with the child, we will have explained to him that we know that these exercises will help him - first of all to be a better athlete and then also make it easier for him learn how to read. (We do work with girls also, but not as frequently, so "he" is easier to use.) Tell him that we know that these things we ask him to do work, but that because every child Is different, we will also learn from him. We will frequently ask him his reactions to each movement, if he had any adverse reactions or if he is getting tired. Most of their lives these children have been told what to do, and no one has asked them how they felt. This is vitally important.
These activities are very dull for the child - even though they take little more than 20 minutes. You will be asked to help with them. Depending on the age, you can turn them into games. Joking and humor can help too. If you need to, correct and then praise when the movement is done well. As each child is different, the program needs to be adjusted to the child, and you will have to use your own judgment.
Use whatever knowledge you bring to this program during the remaining time with the child. If you like to discuss possible activities, let me know. Nothing Is written in stone, and we all need to learn from each other.
As there is progress, we may also become aware of further difficulties which have escaped
us in the original screening, and these can then be taken into consideration when adjusting the
When we instigate movements that may have been repressed for emotional reasons, these
emotions will erupt, and should be allowed to surface and be accepted. This is a very difficult
thing for the child to face and he might need help dealing with emotional memories. Parents should be warned that the child may regress for a period, and to humor him through this phase without feeling threatened by this change.
THE SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND
The scientific background behind what we do is this: In the last 30 years there has been an explosion of research on the brain, so that today there is hardly a millimeter of the brain that has not been explored. There are two facets to this research: The simply mechanical and the chemical. Unlike a computer which is purely mechanical, these two aspects of the human brain are interdependent.
In 1986 Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel prize for her work with Nerve Growth Factor.
Since then over 100 such factors have been identified. Only recently chemical markers have been
found which explain how a chemical created at the junction between an axon and a muscle
when that muscle moves, guides the messages across the axon to the specific area for which it is
intended. Chemical markers atop the nerve cell to which it is intended, guide dendrites to make
contact with that cell.
When we make the child make a movement which replicates the earliest reflexive
movements, we therefore assure that the information goes to the exact place nature intended it to
go. Nerve Growth Factor is created every time we stimulate any part of the brain or the body. An
initial period of three weeks is necessary to make that connection. After that, an occasional day
missed will not matter that much. It is therefore important to impress on the parents that the
program must be carried out during the weekend if we wish fast results.
Since nothing in the brain works by itself, but is connected and routed constantly through
various parts and to other parts, checked, controlled or even suppressed, we try to create the
connections by stimulating all the various senses which makes this interaction possible.
For the exact information I suggest you read Principles of Neural Science by Eric Kandel et. al. - or at least look at it.
OVERVIEW OF THE PROGRAM
The idea of the program is not to teach the child to change his behavior - which he can't - but to get change his neurological development so that his behavior will change. The intent is not to solve all his emotional problems, but to give him a totally coordinated body so that he does not constantly have to compensate for his weakness, but can use that energy to deal with other problems in his life.
When we screen the children at the Dept. of Youth Services, we get an idea of where in the child´s brain connections may not have been made. Since the structure is so complicated, and we have little idea just what occurred to cause the problem, we take a shotgun approach and aim the therapy at the lowest level of development, trusting the body and the brain to do the rest and repair what needs to be repaired.
Both during the evaluation and the exercise sessions, whenever possible there should be at
least two observers involved, because in the process of explaining to the child and getting him to
cooperate, one might miss something. It is also a double check to make sure we do not see
something that isn´t there, simply because that is what we were expecting.
If the child´s walk is not good, we do not try to teach walking, but figure that the
movements prior to walking did not put enough information into the brain to teach him to walk
properly. If the creeping is not coordinated, we figure that something went wrong in the prior
development that did not feed enough information into the brain to do that, and we go back to the
movements prior to that.
If, for instance, we need to go back to pre-natal movements, we replicate those for four to six
weeks. Then when we test the child again and we find that the movements of later development
- such as crawling on the belly, for instance - are now coordinated, we know that the pre-natal movements have done their job. We still have to give further experience in the "Marine crawl" because these movements, in turn, feed the information into the brain that will allow the child to go on to the next development.
Progress is different for every child, but we have found some very specific problems that
seem to be common in all of the learning disabled adults and in the delinquents I have screened.
These teens are the ones which Alen Bell had already identified as probably being in need of this
kind of help.
Without going into the entire process here, I will describe each exercise as giving "Information going to the brain.". If you need more information, feel free to ask. I promise to tell if I don´t know.
You can pass on to the children the information I am giving with each exercise, and can pass the
buck to me if you are stumped for an explanation.
FIRST SET OF EXERCISES AND WHY THEY WORK
After the first set of exercises is smoothly and easily performed, then you can add the second set of exercises (see below).
1. Chair turn - eyes closed. (Total 2 min.)
Sit in chair without contact to floor - eyes closed. Parent or assistant turns
chair very slowly - 360 degrees in one minute ( count silently 15 seconds for each quarter turn).
Wait a few seconds, then go back the other way. Each child will have a different reaction - some
may get dizzy, some may not be able to feel if they are moving, or feel continued moving after the chair has stopped. You may talk to them during that period, ask how they feel, etc. (This recapitulates the movement stimulation the fetus had in utero and stimulates the vestibular system.)
2. Chair turn - eyes open. (2 to 3 min.)
Child sits in chair, and assistant twirls chair as fast as possible, stops chair, moves in opposite
direction, varies speed and direction constantly - two minutes is enough. if child complains of
getting dizzy, slow to the point where he can tolerate it. (This connects the vestibular system and the eyes.)
3. Joint compression.
Pull, push and then twist each joint of the hand, the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder joint.
Put two sharp movements of pressure against the shoulders from the top and repeat this to the
head. There are sensory receptors between each joint. Many of the children we see have no idea
where their body is. (This helps establish a "homunculus" in the thalamus, which acts like a
telephone relay station. If there are numbers missing, the information can´t go where it is
supposed to go. As you hold the arm and the hands, you also send touch information - both light
and heavy to that area.)
4a. Log rolls, eyes closed. (3 times each way.)
Child lies on the floor, arms overhead, and turns as slowly as possible, first three times in one
direction, then back. (This stimulates the vestibular and connects it with information received
from all parts of the body Doing it slowly allows for the time to let the sensory impulses get to
the brain.) It can be done very slowly and only three times, or very fast and very often. Slow is
better. If the child gets dizzy - and be sure to ask - make it as slow as possible until he can tolerate it.
4b. Log rolls, eyes open. (3 times each way.)
Same position, same movements three times each way.
(This forces the eyes to adjust to various distances, far against the ceiling to the side of the room,
to the rug. At the same time, there is pressure and muscle input, smell of the rug, location of the
voice of the assistant. All of this information gets coordinated with the vestibular stimulation.)
5. Homolateral in-place movements (Lizard)
Place the child in what is known in First Aid manuals as the "recovery position": head to one side, arm at that side with hand at eye level, knee at that side up to 90 degree angle. If the child has trouble with this, assist with head movements for a few days until he can do it. The up hand (the hand at eye level) then moves down - like a lizard pushing through the mud. Have the child
concentrate on the pressure felt on his palm. This should activate the reflexive movement which
turns the head and changes the configuration to the other side. The hand should not swing out but
slide along the side of the body. Legs should slide along the floor, toes slightly digging in. It will
take some time to have movement coordinated. Do not correct too much, but allow it happen. You may have to help with the head for a few days.
This should be done to the count of 30 - each side counted as one. Then count backward to
zero. The exercise is quite difficult and should be started with only 10 times each, increase each day up to 60 times, or the child will get charley horse and it will hurt and he won't do it..
Since these movements involve the trapezoid muscle which controls head movement, they
involve the XI th cranial nerve, which enters through the medulla. As a result you will find that the child starts breathing with the diaphragm almost immediately, because the medulla controls breathing. This is very important, because many of the children breathe only with the upper part of their lungs. If you can´t see it happening you could feel it with your hand, but some children do not like to be touched. You should, however, point it out to them because it helps them see that something is happening -- and that very important to keep them motivated.
This "lizard" movement puts the exact same information from each side of the body into the opposite side of the brain and especially affects other centers in the brainstem. Later the brain can then interpret. what is happening to the body by comparing the discrepancy of what is received by each side. At each turn only the top eye gets information, since the other side is occluded. As the head turns, the vestibular system is stimulated and connects to the information received from the body. As you talk to the child, the auditory system gets information.
6. Moro Reflex movement. (3 or 4 times)
The child sits in the chair in a fetal position, then swings arms up and legs and then returns to the fetal position. This is a replication of the Moro reflex, a series of movement that normally happens when a new born baby is startled. There are other ways to do this, but I found this works fine to replicate normal developmental sequence. Three or four times is enough.
( The Moro is a reflex which starts in utero, but should have disappeared by the third month or so. We have them repeat it to be on the safe side, because if this reflex persists, it did not disappear because had not been stimulated sufficiently during the first few months.)
7. Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex the "Fencer" (3 times each side)
Have the child sit in the fetal position, then turn the head toward the side which we had
found to be the dominant side. As the head turns, the foot on that side goes out, the arm goes out
and you instruct the child to look at that hand. The other hand goes up near the other ear, other
foot stays bent. Have the child go back to the fetal position, this time the subdominant hand on
top, and turn the head in the other direction - hand goes out, foot goes out, and the opposite hand
comes up beside the ear.
(This reflex - the ATNR - has the function of training the baby's eyes.) It may take a while to get it right, be patient. Once it is done correctly, three times very slowly on each side Is enough. Encourage the child to move the shoulders when lifting the hand at the back side of the head.
8. Visual Stimulation - Pleoptics
(Use a Boy Scout flashlight with a penny glued in the middle of the lens so it won't be too bright.)
You may wish to demonstrate on yourself first so the child knows what you are doing. For a few minutes turn off the lights - but leave the door open, so as not to frighten the child. Explain that this gives the pupils a chance to open wide, then cover one eye and flash the light into the eye which you want to be dominant - count to six -, have the child close both eyes, and sweep the light over both closed eyes - count to twelve. Have the child open the other eye - the count of six - then sweep over both closed eyes to the count of twelve.. Do this process twice. It is good to demonstrate on your own eyes first. This is actually a pleasant feeling. You may have to cover the other eye if the child can't close the eye himself. If bright light is too much for the child, place blue filter over the lens until the child can tolerate this.
(This sends information directly to the visual cortex at the back of the head.) Observe: the lens of the second eyes should close up along with the first. On the second repetition of the stimulation, both lenses will be remain at about the same opening. With autistic children it may take a few weeks until the pupils close to light. Remember that this is not about training the pupils but about making connections in the brainstem. You will find that after several weeks the eyes will react far more rapidly.)
9. Visual Pursuit (2 min., or depending on visual dominance as seen by the screening.)
Have the child hold a pencil in his dominant hand (unless we want to change dominance) and
make movements across, around, up and down and diagonally, and follow the pencil with his
eyes. One minute is enough. Repeat with the other hand. Then you hold the pencil and have him follow the movements you make.
(There is a difference in the processing between his holding the target and your holding it, because when he does it, he knows where the target goes, while he does not when you do it). I have found that most of these kids have trouble with saccadic eye movements, so that after straight up and down and across, I will do a series of passes from (his) left to right, stopping at about three intervals across, then smoothly moving down and back before repeating the passes. If there is a problem with fusion, pursuit should be done on each eye separately, then with eyes together. This decision is made on an individual basis.
10. Stimulation of the Cranial Nerves (2 to 5 min.)
There are three areas of the face and scalp enervated by the trigeminal nerve. Stimulate
lightly by stroking the face then repeat with deeper pressure these three areas. They are
above the eyes, below the nose toward the ear, and below the chin and toward the ear and over the ear lobe into the scalp. This stimulates all the parasympathetic nerves which pull the child out of the"fight or fligh" mode into a calmer state. Stroke also under the chin, toward the ear and over the ear lobe into the scalp.
(For the autistic child this is particularly important because in going over the ear lobe we stimulate the facial nerve. This nerve is directly connected to the stapedius muscle - whose job it is to decrease sensitivity to noise.)
SECOND SET OF EXERCISES
Depending on the progress of the child, usually anywhere from four weeks to two months, we should see at least the beginnings of a head righting reflex. We need to continue the first phase, to make sure that the connections become fully established. At this phase, usually the "Marine crawl"becomes coordinated, and we know that we have achieved the connections in the first phase.
Have the child wear long sleeves and pants to avoid rug burn. You may need to put pads on the
knees or stuff some towels into the pants at that area if the creeping is uncomfortable on the
At this point we ask the child to add the following:
1. "Marine crawl".
Crawling on belly, chest as close to the ground as possible. Forward hand moves with the
opposite side of the leg, and is then brought down near the chest, as the other arm moves forward
and the opposite leg pushes the body forward. (These next developmental moves are strenuous
and should be stopped when child tires.) Look for smooth, rhythmic coordination.
2. Rocking on hands and knees. (4 times forward and back.)
It should be done very slowly - four times is enough. This is the movement the baby makes
to counteract the symmetrical tonic neck reflex. (This is a reflex which under normal
circumstances exists for only a short period, and would force the bottom down when the child lifts his head, and when arms when the head the elbows will bend. The function of this reflex seems to be to train the eyes from near vision to far vision We may replicate this reflex movement prior to the rocking if there are visual problems In adjusting from near to far.)
3. Creeping forward on hands and knees. ( At least five minutes. You may read to the child or play games to make it seem shorter. After about a minute of the rocking, this movement should become better coordinated.)
Opposite hand and knee strike the floor at the same time. Hands should be flat, straight forward, forefoot flat on the floor. You might correct the child occasionally, but if the movement is not done well, go back to the rocking movement instead and start again. (It is during this creeping period that the connections to the cerebellum are made, and with this movement all kinds of perceptions are developed. This has been studied recently at Reed College, and is being used at the Miriam Bender Institute to help dyslexic students get through college. In neurological studies it has been found that you can get a cell to fire in the cerebellum when the target moves at the same time as the head moves. This is what happens during this creeping movement.)
THIRD SET OF EXERCISES
When the prior skills have become easy for the child, we start working on cross-pattern walking. We start emphasizing handedness. We do this by giving all kinds of activities which encourage one sidedness. This is only done after a repeat evaluation.
At this stage the program will become more individualized. Jogging and running might be started. Formal visual training may be instigated. We may, at this point, be able to start the SOl program and be successful. Auditory feedback of the child's speech with a tape recorder may be needed.
©Copyright 2002 Svea Gold. All Rights Reserved.
For more complete information see our video "Autism, Neurological Research an Neurodevelopmental Therapy", available on this website.
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