Willem: moving towards independence with The Feldenkrais Method®

A case study by Feldenkrais Practitioner Ingrid Weisfelt.

Meeting Willem

When I first met Willem he was the adorable, quiet, sitting son of my friend Abi. Just about to turn two, he existed within what seemed to me to be an invisible, immobile enclosure, very reluctant to let anyone but Mum or Dad come close. I approached him quietly and patiently, and before long Willem and I began a relationship that helped us both to grow and learn.

Willem was born with Down Syndrome and at that stage the dust had yet to settle from his arrival. Now Willem is an adorably vibrant, cheeky and adventurous little boy who won’t let the dust settle because he is so much on the go.

Developmental Movements are the Building Blocks of Human Movement
From day one babies are busy and have much to learn. They begin with the act of sucking and quickly progress to grabbing, holding feet, reaching, rolling, bending, arching, pushing through hands and feet, sitting, crawling, kneeling, standing, falling, and when all that adds up, they finally master walking. These actions are all developmental movements. They are the building blocks of human movement and lay the foundation as to how we interact with our world as adults.

Luckily, developmental movements are fun. Usually, as parents or carers, all we need to do is provide a warm, safe, encouraging and comfortable environment and babies will get on with the job themselves.

Sometimes intervention is necessary and there are many options now for parents to explore as to what can assist in the movement development of their child.

What the Feldenkrais Method can Offer
I was very happy when Abi invited me practice Feldenkrais with Willem.

The Feldenkrais Method is a gentle, non- invasive, holistic, safe, and respectful movement practice, based on awareness and exploration. Feldenkrais has many applications, but much of the Method evolved from founder Moshe Feldenkrais’s observations on how children learn to move, which he made in the office of his wife, pediatrician, Yona Rubenstein. There are thousands of Feldenkrais lessons all of which improve posture, alignment, co-ordination, and movement function, but fundamentally the lessons teach us how to listen to and understand our own bodies in action.

Working with Willem
Willem and I worked together over an eight- week period and I saw him for seven lessons at his home amidst the playing chaos of his older brother and my two young children. I knew that our work together was having a positive impact on his motor development because each week I would return to see him using the movement he had learned from the previous lesson. I recognized Willem’s great capacity for learning.

After seven lessons Willem could do a classic crawl but more often than not opted for a sitting bum shuffle just as his older brother had. Most importantly he could get to wherever and to whatever he wanted. He started to pull himself up to standing and to fall fearlessly and easily back onto his bottom, which is crucial in gaining the confidence to stand and walk independently. Our lessons together involved gentle rolling, bending, arching, reaching, and weight bearing. They were play based and fun.

Moving Into Independence
I am not seeing Willem for Feldenkrais lessons anymore because, at this stage, he can do the rest for himself. Now when I visit I just enjoy watching Willem wreaking havoc as doors and drawers get child proofed and anything breakable gets lifted out of reach. It was such a pleasure to be part of Willem’s move into independence.