Every parent of a special needs child lends a particular notice and emphasis upon what is happening with the hands and the feet of their child.
On the one hand this is due to the fact that these are the most obvious areas of the body – they stick out! If the feet roll inwards, if the hand is shriveled and not useful for grasping objects, eating and playing – well then the parents and the therapists as well gather around this hand or foot. They try to stimulate the child to use it better, try to stretch it, try to massage it – anything to try to bring it to usage.
The ABR Method takes an entirely different avenue. First of all one works on understanding and recognition! One tries to go a few levels deeper into the evaluation of the difficulty of the “hand” or the “foot” itself – in following the present example.
What does a shriveled hand show us? The hand always leads back to the shoulder girdle and the neck. When one sees a shriveled or a hand with contracture there is no doubt that limitations can be found higher up in the vertical connections of the neck and spine. When the cervical spine is weak, then it needs to start to use and mobilize the arms and hands for stability. The arms then take over as stabilizers because the most important thing that needs to be done is to protect the neck and keep the head stable.
Movement teachers who have worked with children can surely remember having seen the following: A young girl or boy who runs with at least one arm bent and held close to the body. One may have asked oneself “What is this child doing? Why does he run like that?”
As soon as one recognizes that even an otherwise healthy child who runs with one or both arms bent and held close to the chest is doing this to protect the less obvious weaknesses in his neck – then the strange positions of the arms and hands of children with cerebral palsy and related conditions can be recognized for what they truly are at a deeper structural base: They are all the natural attempts to protect and to stabilize the weak connections between the head and the neck.
Or: If my head wobbles, because my neck is weak, I can then create stability for the neck by blocking the long horizontal connections of the arms that would otherwise create even more chaos for my wobbly head. Instead of allowing the horizontal connections of the arms to simply ruin any stability I can find in my neck, I will recruit them by blocking them to add some stability to my weak vertical neck connections.
This is the basic understanding of the shriveled hands, the folded hands, and the turned in feet. The special needs child has with an internal act of genius searched for ways to stabilize the head – or the pelvis/spine connections in the case of the feet – even if the attempt has not been effective and even if there are much more suitable ways of attaining head stability.
For the ABR inspired – and what could be called Bio-tensegral Informed Understanding – it is clear that it will be necessary to assist the child with folded hands and/or contractures of the feet at higher levels of the body starting with the vertical connections – specifically at the spine – before one can expect to achieve a meaningful change in the positioning or usage of either the hands or the feet. Any stretching, injecting with nerve poisons, orthopaedic interventions or surgeries will only have a limited and short term effect if one cannot manage to address the problem at the root.
On the other hand once the hands or feet have stiffened into a permanently poor position, they unfortunately become an additional liability for the child or affected adult. They have been trying to do the work of the weak neck or the weak pelvic connections for years and this has brought them into a state of permanent stiffening more commonly called spasticity. These spastic hands and feet however – do not allow the child to release any tensions generated through his daily life through the arms and legs. Normally a person can release an immense amount of tension through simply walking, doing something with the hands, or gesticulating when talking. The hands and feet of the special needs child – instead of being able to move, dance in daily movement and release tensions – end up being tension collectors and return built up tensions to the overly tense body.
Parents of special needs children know how the child is always getting tension – when she is happy and excited, when he is nervous, unhappy or in pain – tensions are exhibited in the legs, in the hands, in the jaw, in the neck –
A vicious cycle is implemented – and the child cannot exit on his own. It is here that the child need assistance from another side and he or she cannot bring this himself.
ABR strategy – in this case – is not only to strengthen the vertical connections at the level of the spine, but to reduce the negative effect of the feet and hand tensions. Tensions that build up and cannot be released have a long term negative effect upon the individual – leading to further stiffening, further fibrosis of the tissues, further discomfort – and so it goes around and around.
Newer ABR applications developed – like the power socks, the wraps, the Osteo-tapping, the “Reverse Squeeze” at the hands and feet – all these are designed to bring a release of tensions to the peripheral joints.
The ABR children have now been rewarding the efforts of their parents with faster attainment and new levels of grasping objects, eating on ones own, using the arms for weight bearing, standing independently.
We watch these improvements with joy and congratulate ABR families for their immense efforts!