How Feldenkrais Can Help Children with Special Needs

Special Needs Family

Having a child with atypical development, in any realm, does not mean your child needs to live a life of limitations. In most cases, it means that they (and you, the parents) have some challenges to overcome. There will be a lot of work, an incredible amount of understanding, some trial and error, methods that do work, and those that don’t – and eventually, an incredible thrill as goals are achieved.

The Feldenkrais Method® is one way to reach your child, learn to understand or at least see through their eyes, and work on progressing the abilities they already have. This method can work with anyone; child, adult, someone with special needs, or someone without. In this article though, we will be talking specifically about working with children.


What Is the Feldenkrais Method?

The Feldenkrais Method® was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais after a lifetime of studying the human body and movement. It’s a way to improve mental and physical health by being more aware of your movements and using that awareness to harness the power so you can move better, feel better, and live better.


The Feldenkrais Method is not “exercise”, it’s not difficult, and it is usually very enjoyable. It builds upon movements you can already do and then incrementally improving them to open a door of possibilities and to add joyful grace to skills that have already been mastered.


Feldenkrais and Children with Special Needs

We don’t use the term “special needs” lightly and we understand that some people find it offensive, but we have done research and simply can’t find a term that everyone can agree upon. We certainly do not mean to offend or upset anyone when we use this phrase. That said, Feldenkrais is a different approach to traditional therapy for children with special needs.


The Feldenkrais Method is so particularly beneficial to individuals with special needs because it starts by celebrating and focusing on movements they can make with ease. The movements are studied, broken down, felt in smaller and smaller increments. A clearer picture forms in the mind as the ability to notice differences in qualities of movement grows. What is an effortful movement? What is an easy movement? What does fast feel like? What does slow feel like? How is it to do a movement initiated from the fingers reaching. Or from the spine? Or from the foot? The practitioner helps guide meaningful explorations that open possibilities. This process continues and new neural pathways are formed so one movement can become many.


What Happens in a Feldenkrais Session for a Child?

Typically, the practitioner will want the parent and child to both be participatory in the session. It will begin by building a trusting relationship with the child and the parent. A goal that threads through Feldenkrais sessions, is to lessen pain and increase comfort. Nothing done with the child should be felt as a threat, painful, or invasive. Many times, the session will take place in the context of play. As the child entertains herself, the practitioner can join and begin to help the child sense their own body parts and how those parts relate to each other. Some children may need to stay in one of the parents’ laps while the practitioner gently touches and helps the baby or toddler explore movement. And at other times, the child may be older and quite interactive and able to follow a practitioner’s lead in exploring specific movement patterns.


Always, the emphasis is on connecting to the child where he is right now. Helping him do things he already does even better, and from there, exploring new opportunities. Parents will be encouraged to participate in movement classes or receive a private session themselves so they can better understand and feel, in their own body, and transmit that quality of movement to their child through everyday interactions.


Why Parents are so Important in Feldenkrais for Special Needs

Imagine the powerful benefit of having a parent who can, not only be a child’s advocate but can be an agent of change for that child. Parents understand what movements their children can make, they know what ones they enjoy and what ones they try to avoid. Like all people, children with special needs develop and grow differently, and parents are key not only in tracking their child’s unique expression and development but in giving them regular stimulus toward the next step in the process.


Whatever the cause of your child’s slower development, you may notice that they are more repetitive in the motions they do know and that they seem to have less of a variety in moving than other children. Because variation in movement is key to development of the brain, the child needs extra help in mapping out their movement potential, which also allows improvement in thought and regulation. Through the parent’s observation of frequent and comfortable movements, a pathway to change can be developed and the brain can explore new experiences and growth channels. Continual work in the home on these slight changes in movement leads to greater confidence and competence in movement.


Intentional, skillful home interactions create daily micro-lessons that go beyond movement sessions to tailoring the environment to prompt different types of play, encouraging a variety of movement, introducing slight obstacles and other challenges that are fresh and stimulating. This is where daily parental support is crucial to success.


Why Being Involved in a Summit Can Be Beneficial

There is power in community. Bringing together people who are in a similar situation and people who have experience in that area can be incredibly useful. There’s a sense of camaraderie and partnership, a group feeling of love and acceptance. It’s also a great way to ask questions without fear and receive answers or suggestions without judgment.


Beyond the community aspect, the summit setting gives you the opportunity to learn from a variety of people, from people who have disabilities to people who have dedicated their lives to helping people move beyond perceived limitations. You’ll get your questions answered and you’ll hear answers to questions you have yet to ponder. If there aren’t any answers, that’s okay, too. It’s still an incredible learning experience.


Currently, the Future Life Now Feldenkrais Summit for parents of children with special needs isn’t quite yet open for registration, but if you are interested,  sign up on our waitlist to get notified as soon as it opens.

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Cynthia Allen
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