The Wheels on the Bus and the Anat Baniel Method

Let me preface this post by saying I’m a skeptical optimist. I can rationalize that paradox because I’ve spun around the sun on this planet nearly 41 times now; and I feel fairly confident about what I’ve learned from life thus far. I’m not jaded, nor am I naive. So when I heard about the Anat Baniel Method (ABM) from someone on the Hypotonia Parents Connection list I belong to, I was skeptically optimistic that it might help my Keti.

Paraphrasing from the organization’s website, the Anat Baniel Method claims to help special needs children overcome challenges that will improve the child’s emotional, intellectual, and physical abilities. In her book, Kids Beyond Limits: Breakthrough results for children with autism, Asperger’s, brain damage, ADHD, and undiagnosed developmental delays, Baniel claims that she is not a healer or miracle worker. How exactly does she take these children beyond their limitations? Her method is a holistic approach. She applies her method via a series of sessions to connect the child’s body to the child’s mind through a type of physical manipulation.

Still not sure what the heck I’m talking about? Take a moment to visit her website and get a first-hand glimpse of her working with a child:

The nearest practitioner, Katherine O’Neil, is about 90 minutes from my home. After speaking to her on the phone and describing Keti’s special needs (Hypotonia, Sensory Processing Disorder with major food aversions, speech delay, gross motor delay), I made an appointment and scheduled two, same-day sessions. Still uncertain of what I was getting myself and Keti into, I made the drive through the suburbs of Philadelphia with optimism, hoping that perhaps this woman could somehow help my baby girl.

When Keti and I arrived at Kathy’s Zen-like home on a hill, we were greeted by a lovely blonde woman wearing a chic pair of glasses. She gave us a warm welcome and invited us into her work space. There was a table that looks like a massage table in the middle of the room and a very cozy couch. At first, she had me pull up a chair and sit near Keti as she began speaking to her to make sure Keti felt safe. Within a 30 seconds, it was clear that Keti felt safe with Kathy. She was making eye contact with Kathy and smiling at her. Kathy began to playing peek-a-boo with Keti and Keti laughed as Kathy doted upon her. Then she said it was all right for me to sit back on the couch.

For the next 35 minutes, Kathy worked her magic on Keti, gently working her way around her body from her shoulders to her toes. Throughout the session, Keti was cooing and at times giggling. It was very clear that she was at all times very comfortable with everything Kathy was doing. One of the most impressive things she had Keti do was to lie down on her side and to get back up on her side. This, being the proper way to rise. She showed Keti how to do it three or four times; and a few moments later when she lay Keti down on her side again, Keti rose as Kathy had taught her to. It was clear to me that Keti was receiving the input that was intended; and I left the first session thinking there is something to this method.

Two hours later we were back for the second session. Keti was back on the table and this time, Kathy had a small stepping stool on the table. She placed a pop-up toy on the table for Keti to play with while she worked on the lower half of her body. She mentioned that Keti was wound very tight in the top of her body and was very loose in the bottom of her body. “That’s the Hypotonia,” I said.

Then the most remarkable part of the sessions began to happen. While singing “The Wheels on the Bus,” Kathy, had Keti sit on the stool, her legs at a 90-degree angle. She encouraged Keti to stand up then grabbed her by the head and balanced her to a standing position. She held her head in her hands for about 30 seconds then let go and Keti stood unsupported for a few seconds then Kathy placed her hands back on Keti’s head and led her down to a sitting position.

When I asked Kathy why she was holding on to her head, she said that the head was the most important component for her to balance in order to stand and walk. If she cannot balance her head she cannot stand or walk.

Tears began to stream down my face. Keti has been cruising on furniture for five months and I’ve seen her stand unsupported just a few times until she plops down on her bottom. But what Kathy helped her do was extraordinary. Kathy said, “Oh, please don’t cry. You’re going to make me cry.”

The standing with Kathy holding Keti’s head occurred three or four more times during the session. On two occasions, sensing that Keti wasn’t ready to stand, Kathy guided Keti’s head to a sitting position rather than a standing position.

Another extraordinary moment was watching Kathy’s version of Pat-A-Cake. Instead of clapping two hands, Kathy used Keti’s left hand and right foot, then used Keti’s right hand and left foot. I could see the most curious expression on Keti’s face as Kathy sang the song and went through the motions of a song she’s heard so many, many times while using just her hands. Her facial expression said what she couldn’t: “This is different. Hey, that’s my foot and my hand!”

When the session was over, I spoke to Kathy about Keti’s leg braces and the walker. She inferred that these were impediments to Keti’s natural development. She assured me with absolute certainty, “Keti will walk. She has all of the components, she just has to put them together.” That was another moment when the tears started streaming down my face.

Suffice to say, I walked out a proponent of the Anat Baniel Method. Keti has two more sessions coming up on Saturday and two more on Monday. Kathy explained the importance of having the sessions occur in quick succession of one another. She needs the exposure to pull the attention to all the moving parts of the process.

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