Tuesday, November 5, 2019

About Physical Contact: Taming a “Touchy” Subject

In the sessions I facilitate with clients, and in the courses I teach, the topic of physical contact comes up.


In Brain Gym® workshops, for example, after everyone learns the Lazy 8s movement I often introduce the idea of doing Lazy 8s on each other’s backs. This is a fun activity, bringing this infinity-pattern into kinesthetic awareness.

Many people, especially young children, find it quite soothing. I’ve calmed many infants by tracing Lazy 8s on their back. Classroom teachers tell me that their students enjoy pairing up and offering this kind of friendly connection with each other. 

However, my instruction to those learning this activity is this: 

     Always get permission for physical contact 

     from the person you’re working with.

Language is everything.

Notice my words here: permission for “physical contact,” not “touch.” 

In our world, the word “touch” carries quite a charge. Depending on the circumstances, the words “He touched me” could be neutral information about a past action, or a highly emotional accusation.

So, when my students fall into language for this kind of permission by saying “May I touch you?” I suggest that they find clearer, more specific words.

Neutral and informative

Anytime there’s physical contact, the language around it should be as neutral and informative as possible. 

I like to give very specific information about the kind of physical contact the person can expect.

In the case of this particular activity, the language I recommend is simply: “May I do Lazy 8s on your back, with the flat of my hand?” These words provide a clear image of exactly what will happen, where it will happen, how long it's likely to go on, and a quality of contact and pressure to be expected.

And your verbal timing should provide space for the person to say “No.” There should always be a pause—an opportunity for the person to consider, and to answer back. No rushing through this. When someone does say “No,” I thank them for being so very clear about what works for them. 

Sometimes I’ll suggest an alternative: “May I do Lazy 8s on your arm?” Because this is a location that the person can see and monitor, it likely feels safer.

Watch for signs of stress
I have no idea who among my clients or students might have some kind of physical abuse in their past—or present. Without making a big deal of it, I simply have in the back of my mind a subtle monitoring for signs of discomfort: holding breath, turning pale, sound of alarm in their voice, or a long pause before a reluctant “Yes.” I’ve seen all these. 

For those I’m teaching, signs of stress may include standing too far from the person they’re working with, a jerky approach, lack of eye contact, or an uncomfortable giggle.

When I notice these things with a client I don’t necessarily say anything; however, I pause in the session and suggest that we both have some water, sit in Hook-ups, and take a few deep breaths. At that point, I ask if the person is ready to continue. I notice carefully, and go from there, adjusting as necessary. 

With a workshop student I may have a bit of a conversation with them about their comfort level with physical contact, and suggest the same water, Hook-ups, and a few deep breaths, as above. If there’s time, I may take the opportunity to do a mini balance with them on this topic.

Here are some examples of how I manage specific kinds of physical contact in my office:

On a first meeting

As an Educational Kinesiologist, muscle checking is a standard part of what I do. No matter the age of the person I’m working with, I make sure that their first experience of contact with me as a practitioner is them moving toward me. This is a very subtle, but profound, difference.

To do this, I demonstrate an arm position for muscle checking, saying, “Hold your arm in about this position.” Then I put my hand about three inches above their forearm and say, “now bring your arm up under my hand until we connect.” Then comes the rest of muscle checking using that arm.

Points on the body
One aspect of the upper-level Edu-K work is to check an "indicator" muscle (usually involving the arm), while contacting various points on the body, to detect stress in certain functions.

For example, to determine if there’s stress in the “Breathing Dimension” we muscle check the arm while holding fingers of the other hand to a spot under the left side of the ribcage. My practice is to explain that I’d like to “connect with where you breathe to see if it’s happy,” point to that spot on myself, and say, "Is this OK?" Following a "yes" or a nod, I carry on with the muscle check on the client. 

As the client becomes familiar with who I am and how the process unfolds, getting repeated permissions for the same kind of checking becomes unnecessary. However, anytime the process calls for some new kind of physical contact, I always ask permission.

Tracing patterns

Some of the techniques I use are the Developmental Building Block Activities from Cecilia Koester’s BG170 course, Brain Gym® for Special Education Providers.

Two of these techniques call for tracing along the body in specific patterns. For example, the Navel Radiation activity calls for tracing on the body (greatly simplified) from navel out to fingertips, back to navel, out to the toes, back to the navel, etc. 

Before I facilitate this on anyone of any age, I explain clearly where I’ll be tracing, and get permission. If the person looks the least bit uncertain, I model it first, tracing on my own body. I point toward my bodywork table and ask them if they want to lie on their back or their belly for this (kids love being on the table), and allow them to position themselves as they like. 

I begin the process and ask them to guide me: faster, slower, deeper, lighter. I tell my youngest clients, “Drive me like a car and tell me just what to do.” In this playful way, I give children authority to direct their own experience so it’s most helpful to them. (They always know exactly what they need.) 

When this kind of physical contact is confident, clear, professional, and done with respect for the personal boundaries of the person receiving it, recipients are able to relax deeply and reap the neurological benefits of this kind of therapeutic pattern-building experience.

The importance of personal clarity

As a practitioner, a key element is to totally know that what you’re offering is neutral physical contact, for a specific, helpful purpose. 

Any reluctance or discomfort you may feel will certainly be picked up on by the person you’re working with.

If you notice hesitation in this regard, I highly recommend going through a personal balance session, perhaps for a goal along the lines of, “I comfortably offer and receive support through neutral, helpful physical contact.” 

When I work with a client, I stand in the confidence that muscle checking and other kinds of therapeutic physical contact are a helpful component of facilitating a session. I move forward like it's a matter of course in my work (which it is). 

Wishing you all a comfortable, professional connection with your clients! 

With warm regards,

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain
BOOK: www.EducateYourBrain.com

1. Cecilia Koester has developed a one-day workshop to teach just these Developmental Building Block Activities, and I am one of the instructors she has authorized to teach it. If this material interests you, you're welcome to contact me about attending an upcoming course or scheduling one specifically for your school, group, or agency.

©Copyright 2019 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Photograph copyright© Laird Brown Photography. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation • www.braingym.org

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Watching the Need for Compensation Strategies Simply Fall Away

“When there isn’t integration,
there is compensation with stress.”
~ Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

During my years as a classroom teacher a common viewpoint was, “If a child struggles with reading, the best we can do is to teach him various compensation strategies to make his reading a bit easier.” For years, that’s what I thought, too.

I now know that this is not true. There’s much more that we can do: we can resolve the learning challenge at its core. Then the person simply doesn’t need the compensation strategies anymore.

Through using the Brain Gym system for the last 23 years, I’ve learned that once a child (or adult) has developed more coordinated movement patterns, he automatically has greater access to the physical skills of reading. He becomes a more capable reader, and there’s simply less need for compensations. I have seen this time and time again.

Reading compensations

Take nine-year-old “Micah,” for example. His mother asked me to work with him to improve his reading. Micah had difficulty focusing on one word at a time, and in going left-to-right across the page. Sometimes he would even skip from the line he was reading, to the line above or below it, without even realizing it. This would create a truly disjointed story, but he didn’t seem to notice the difference. His mother wondered if he even knew what it was he was reading.

Micah had had three years of special help at school, from caring professionals who worked diligently with him; still, he was not improving very much.

His teachers had taught him several techniques for focusing on the “right” word as he was reading along. He could use his finger under one word at a time. He could put a card under the entire line, and use his finger to remind him to go from left to right. Or he could use a special card with a slot cut into it, which would show only one line of print at a time.

Micah used these techniques at different times, with varying degrees of success.

After a bit of “getting to know you” chatting, I asked Micah what he wished was easier. He said that reading was “not fun” and he wished he could read like the other kids in his class. I told him that I would be happy to work with him on this project, and it would very likely help a lot. His face lit up with a big smile!

I asked him to show me what his reading was like. He pulled out his story page, and used the card with the cutout to showcase the first line. He laboriously moved his finger along the line of print, and then carefully moved the card to the next line down. This was a story he had read before; still, he stumbled over simple words, miscalling several, reading in a flat tone that told me there was limited comprehension going on.

Moving into cross-lateral coordination
I told Micah that, now that his mind-body system could feel just what part of reading was hard for him, it would know what kinds of movements to pick, to make reading easier. I showed him a listing of Brain Gym movements and processes, and asked him to notice what was getting his attention.

He pointed immediately to a box at the bottom of the list, with the words “Dennison Laterality Repatterning,” and said, “What’s in this box?” I said, “I’ll show you.”

Dennison Laterality Repatterning (DLR) is a five-step protocol developed by Brain Gym co-founder Paul Dennison, Ph.D. In my experience, the DLR process is one of the most profound elements in the Brain Gym “menu” of offerings. Simply stated, it supports the mind-body system in developing more coordinated cross-lateral movement patterns. Once these new, more coordinated, movement patterns are in place, many things are easier – most notably in this context, reading.

I took Micah through this five-step protocol. Initially, his movements were awkward and uncoordinated, especially those that included the Cross Crawl (elbow to the opposite knee, back and forth). However, after he completed the entire five steps, he could Cross Crawl easily – effortlessly bringing his elbow and opposite knee together. (I wasn’t surprised – this is a frequent outcome of this repatterning process.)

Watching compensations disappear
When we were finished with this I asked him to read again. He positioned his card over the print as before, with just one line of print showing through the slot; he put his finger at the beginning of the slot, moving it along as he read. And he read almost every word correctly. He continued this way for three more lines; by now he was self-correcting the few mistakes he made.

He looked up at me, with a surprised look on his face. I asked what he noticed, and he said, “I’m reading!” I said, “Congratulations! I can see how excited you are! What do you want to do next?”

He picked up his card and looked at the whole story. I got the feeling that he was really seeing this page of print for the first time. He positioned the card in a new way, putting just the top edge of it under the line he was reading, and again moved his finger from one word to the next, more quickly this time, still reading correctly.

Finally, he set the card entirely to the side, and read again. At first he used his finger under one word at a time, then he stopped doing that and simply read. Line after line. Correctly. 

Not only that, but he read with feeling – pausing for commas, stopping at periods, with the kind of music in his voice that shows real comprehension. He wasn’t reading words, he was reading a story.

He looked up at me again, and said again, “I’M READING!” He was thrilled beyond belief. And the look on his mother’s face was certainly something to behold. After years of effort to help Micah improve his reading, it all seemed to come together in this single session.

I realized I was watching Micah’s need for compensation techniques simply fall away.

Micah didn’t need the “crutches” anymore – he was up and running on his own. 

With warm regards, 

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain

©Copyright 2019 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation • www.braingym.org

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Making Lazy 8s Boards - Tools for Classroom Fun

I’ve written a number of articles that mention the Lazy 8s activity from Brain Gym®, and thought it was time to add this information about making Lazy 8s Boards to my blog postings.

A Lazy 8s board is a handy aid for those just learning this pattern, and fun for anyone who wants to play with this pattern. I keep several Lazy 8s boards in my office, some with the pattern simply painted on, and others with a Tactile 8, or Musical Marble 8, to enhance the experience of this movement.

Each Lazy 8s board has an arrow reminding the user to start in the middle and flow first to the upper left, and a smiley-face at the bottom, to help him or her orient the board (and therefore the arrow) correctly. I remind learners to “line up the smiley-face with your middle.” That way, the center of the 8 is directly in line with their midline.

Templates for making these boards are available at this link, as a free download. One template has a single line; the other has a double line, creating a “track.” You'll see both these Lazy 8s models in the boards illustrated below. Each template is only half of the total pattern.

Print out two copies of each template and rotate the duplicate 180 degrees and overlap with the sides of the original, forming the complete Lazy 8s pattern. Smooth out the lines where they overlap, if they don’t match exactly.

Most of my Lazy 8s boards are just under 12 x 18 inches in size, with the 8s themselves being about 8 by 14 inches: this is the size of the templates I provide.

I typically use foam-core board, which is lightweight, and tends to hold up better to regular use than simple cardboard. 

One way to transfer the Lazy 8s pattern onto your surface is to create it first out of lightweight cardboard, cut it out, and use it as a tracing template. Or you could tape the pattern securely over the foam-core board, and use a pencil or pen to mark the line firmly enough to press a line into the surface of the board, and then copy over it with markers or paint.
Some learners may benefit from different size Lazy 8s boards; it’s fine to adapt the template for any size you choose.

Young learners love to trace these with their fingers, a toy car, or their favorite stuffed animal or plastic movie-character toy! 

I have also made Lazy 8s boards on solid-color vinyl placemats from the discount store. 
Puff-Paint Lazy 8s
I took the “track” template and traced it onto foam-core board. I painted the track blue, then used gold “puff paint” along the inside and outside borders of the track. (Puff paint is squeezed out of a bottle; as it dries, it actually puffs up a bit, leaving a raised line. Your local craft store will likely have it.) When learners use this track, the raised outline engages more of their sensory apparatus, and helps guide them to stay on the smooth track.

I make single-line Puff-Paint Lazy 8s boards, too.  

Musical Marble Lazy 8s
I came across a wonderful Lazy 8s board adaptation at an Edu-K course. I wish I knew whom to credit for its creation! Trace your double-line “track” Lazy 8s pattern onto a piece of wood. (I bought a finished shelf at my local home-supply store and had them cut it into pieces for me. I sanded the cut edges and was ready to go.) Paint the space inside the track; after the paint dries, hammer in small “finish” nails all along the entire pattern. 

To experience this Lazy 8: Place a marble inside the track and, holding the  board in both hands, angle it so the marble rolls around the track. This makes the most delightful, musical sound! For some learners, a marble moves too quickly, so I also offer a piece of glass that looks like a flattened marble. (I buy these by the bag in the floral department of my local discount store.) A small rubber ball might slow things down, too, but it might not sound as fun.

Scribble-Board Lazy 8s

I made a tactile “scribble board” by covering a piece of foam-core board with window screen (purchased by-the-foot at my local home-supply store), and taping the edges down all around (I used blue “painter’s” tape). Then I used a large clip to hold a piece of blank paper in place over the screen. When learners select this process, I draw a simple Lazy 8 on the paper as a model, and then have them trace over and over it, using a pencil or ballpoint pen. The surface of the screening material underneath the paper creates a vibration in the hand of the learner, offering additional tactile and proprioceptive input—plus the auditory input of the great sound it makes!
This board is also great for Double Doodling.

Tactile Screen Lazy 8s

For this project I cut a large Lazy 8s pattern out of window screening and glued it to some foam-core board that I had edged with blue “painter’s” tape. I ended up using glue-stick to adhere the 8 to the board, which discolored after a while. Perhaps some other kind of adhesive would work better. This board is a bit larger than the others. (Sorry, I don’t have a template for this Lazy 8.) You could also use sandpaper or some other textured material instead of screen.

Wooden track
I’m showing these wooden Lazy 8s tracks, though I have never made one. They are available through various sources. If you’re good with woodworking, and have a router, it’s possible to make your own.

Using wooden tracks: Learners can simply trace along these tracks with a finger. More challenging is to place a marble in the track and, holding the board by two ends, tilting it to move the marble. It takes considerable skill to move the marble without it flying off the track! To slow things down, try using a small rubber ball.

I hope you enjoy these Lazy 8s boards. If you make some, and use them with your students or clients, I’d love it if you’d share your experience with me!

With warm regards, 

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain

©Copyright 2019 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.

Photographs copyright© Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation • www.braingym.org

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Introducing the Developmental Building Block Activities

In many of the sessions I do with young children, I end up using one or more of the Developmental Building Block Activities with the child (details below on what they are), and then the parent continues to do them at home. 

These simple activities, when done regularly, can create huge change in maturing the nervous system of the child — essentially helping her grow up, internally — and, most importantly, help her feel better about herself.

I’m departing from my usual blog “story” format here. This article is simply to explain a bit about what the Developmental Building Block Activities are, what their purpose is, and what what the potential is for using them.

They’re so deceptively simple: Repeatedly do lengthening activities on the foot, and language starts emerging. Repeatedly trace a specific pattern on the child’s body, and he becomes more aware of just where his arms and legs are, and how they relate to his middle; soon he’s moving his body more skillfully, walking around the things in the room, rather than bumping into them. And more.

I offer a one-day workshop in these BBAs, so that parents, OTs, PTs, and others, can learn to facilitate these activities with the children (actually, people of all ages) in their care. More on that, at the end of the article.

Now, on to the information:

What are the Developmental Building Block Activities?
The BBAs are eight specific interventions that are part of a course developed by Cecilia Koester, M.Ed., whose specialty is working with children who have special needs. The course is titled Brain Gym® for Special Needs Providers, and it teaches a modification of the Brain Gym system that is particularly suited for working with children (or adults) in this population.

The BBAs are a wonderful support for those diagnosed with developmental delay, sensory integration issues, ADD/ADHD, stroke, traumatic brain injury, autism, Down syndrome – or for anyone who may be overwhelmed by the sensory load from over-stimulating environments.

What is developmental delay?
This is a term for everything from mild sensory-sensitivity issues to profound delay, where the child is years behind his chronological age, both developmentally and behaviorally. But it's more than just being "temporarily behind" in a few developmental markers that resolve themselves over time.

I often describe developmental delay with this image: Think of a skyscraper that someone built, but they never put in quite enough uprights and crossbeams for the structure to be solid. It looks big from the outside, but the interior is barely finished — there’s no place to anchor the floors, the walls, the pipes, the wiring — and bringing in furniture is out of the question.

Similarly, a child with developmental delay may be 8 years old (for example), but her nervous system may not have the solid interior structure required to function easily. Important connections within her nervous system were never completed, so she now has less ability to take in and organize what she sees, hears, and experiences (called “sensory information”) in the world around her; she’s less coordinated, and less able to focus and learn. People expect her to behave and learn like a typical 8-year-old; yet, functionally, she’s much, much younger.

What does developmental delay "look like"?
A child with profound developmental delay will have obvious behaviors that would be appropriate only for a much younger child, and which may include inability to speak, issues with muscle tone, coordination, and focus, etc.

A fairly common manifestation on the more “mild” end of of developmental delay is that the child may resist doing certain activities, including Brain Gym activities. This is often perceived as defiance. For such individuals, however, the activities may be “too much information” for their nervous system to organize and store; they cannot identify or express their own overwhelm, so they simply refuse to participate, or fall into emotional over-reaction out of sheer frustration. After some time of experiencing the BBAs, such children are often able to enjoy all kinds of things that were previously intolerable for them.

Why are the “BBA” activities so helpful?
Our nervous system matures and integrates as it experiences sensory patterns. The BBAs are designed to provide sensory patterning to the nervous system, in a way that it can recognize it, take it in, and benefit from it, developing a more mature, integrated mind-body system.

These new sensory patterns become the “uprights and crossbeams” of a more solid structure, so the child now has a way to bring in, store, organize, and make use of what he sees, hears, and learns about in the world around him. This increasing inner maturity supports his nervous system (potentially) in more closely approximating his chronological age. Every child is on his own developmental trajectory, so some children may achieve greater change than others, but I believe that every child will benefit.

Are the BBAs just for developmental delay?
No. Anyone who has had a shock or disruption to their nervous system will likely experience benefit from the BBAs. This may be a physical shock (car accident, stroke, heart attack), or emotional shock (death in the family, divorce, etc.). And there are the smaller, daily upsets to the nervous system (horrifying news events, work and relationship stressors) that we all carry.

In addition, some people simply have a more sensitive, reactive nervous system; the stimulation of sights, sounds, tastes, fragrances, movements, and tactile experiences of a single day at the shopping mall can be “too much to handle.”

When I teach this course to adults, everyone in the class reports positive changes from experiencing the BBAs, as they trade with partners for practice. Think of the BBAs as a way to do a gentle reset for your nervous system.

My child has seizures; are these activities safe to do?
Cecilia Koester says that these activities have been found to be safe for people who experience seizures. She says that with regular use of these BBAs, “seizure activity has been shown to become reduced in frequency, intensity, and duration.”

How can I learn these activities? 

As mentioned above, they are part of Cecilia Koester’s four-day BG170 course, “Brain Gym® for Special Needs Providers.” 

However, Cecilia also developed a one-day workshop where just the Developmental Building Block Activities are taught, and she has trained and authorized select Brain Gym instructors around the world to offer this workshop to others.

I frequently have this “Developmental Building Block Activities Workshop” on my calendar. At this writing, I have a workshop coming up on September 21, 2019, and there’s still room for more students. I’d love to have you join us.

If these dates don't work for you, I'll be happy to schedule a workshop for your group, school, or agency.  

With warm regards, 

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain

©Copyright 2019 Kathy Brown.All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation • www.braingym.org

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