Reprinted with kind permission from ExChange, The Journal of ATI
Copyright © 1996, Jennifer Kellow. All rights reserved.
Jack had no discernible reflexes. He did not blink when something touched his eyes. His eyes did not move together, so it was hard to tell if he was seeing anything. He did not suck or swallow. At times he choked on his own saliva. His jaw was clenched shut, and his hands were fisted so tightly that his right arm was purple and cold. His shoulder muscles were defined, and he held his shoulders close to his ears. His torso, however, was quiet--almost limp. He looked like a boxer in the middle of a bad round. He was also very tiny for a three-month old.
My supervisor at the nursing agency knew that I was a trained teacher of the Alexander Technique as well as a Registered Nurse. She had requested that I work with Jack to see if the Technique could help him. I became part of a team of nurses and specialists in feeding, speech, and physical therapy.
Jack's medical work up had yielded no diagnosis whatsoever. There was no evidence of structural damage to the brain or nervous system, nor sign of disease or infection. Even his chromosomes were normal. The doctors had nothing to offer the parents. With none of Jack's reflexes to give them a clue, they could not predict whether Jack was of normal intelligence or profoundly retarded. They could not say whether he would ever sit or hold his head up, speak or swallow food. Worst of all, there were no pills or elixers they could prescribe that would produce a change in his condition.
The parents were determined to find some answers for Jack and were willing to create them if necessary. They eagerly agreed to have me work with him. I worked three eight-hour days a week with him. I directed my own use each time I touched him while giving his nursing care, and I gave him two Alexander "lessons" each day. His lessons consisted of fifteen to sixty minutes of my touching the areas where he was tightly contracted and assisting him in letting his neck be free while I let my own neck be free. I also taught the principles of the Alexander Technique to his parents.
Jack's initial response to the Alexander technique was deep and immediate sleep. After fifteen minutes of work he would nap for three hours. His skin would be warm and very pink, indicating good circulation of oxygen, though his heart rate was often alarmingly high. I was afraid he would wake up exhausted from the work of his heart, but instead he awoke alert and active. He began to move his eyes together and to turn his head towards the sound of our voices.
Over the next few months Jack progressed from little to no movement or facial expression to a sigh, then a yawn, then soft vocalizations. The more Alexander lessons he had, the more his reflexes began to appear. The first time he showed a hint of a smile, his mother and I both laughed and cried. There was someone in there, and he was very much aware. As Jack lay on his back, his mother and I dangled toys over him for hours--until he finally could follow them with his eyes, then his head, and then his whole body until he rolled over. As soon as he was able to roll over to one side, he started to roll clear across the room until we would find him under the coffee table lodged between the couch and the table leg. His physical therapist was astonished. She also worked with brain-injured children and felt Jack was more impaired than any of them. She did not expect much from him and was amazed at the changes she was seeing.
Jack began to do well in all his therapies; but he still could not swallow food or milk and had to be fed through a tube in his nose, and later directly into his stomach. However, when Jack's mother learned to consciously free her neck--and by this means remain calm even if Jack started choking--he began to eat tiny amounts of food whenever she, herself, fed him. Although his progress was steady, it was also painstaking. The ability to take the pacifier into his mouth, suck on it, and swallow his saliva without choking took him seven months of work.
By the time Jack was a year old, he had transformed from a pale, thin, severely handicapped infant into a pink, plump, active child. He could balance his head when sitting, play with toys in both hands, and put things into his mouth. He could shake his head "no" and smile for "yes" to indicate preferences. He rolled over on either side and began creeping. In his walker, he pushed his feet against the floor to stand. But if anyone picked him up while tightening their neck and pulling their head back and down, he would yell until they released their neck. Then he would reward them with a big smile.
Jack's parents were happy. Instead of a life of sadness with him, they could now experience great delight in his reflexive and other developmental milestones. The Alexander Technique allowed Jack to release the tiny tight grasp he had on life and to fully engage in play with his people and environment.
Jennifer Kellow is a Registered Nurse and Alexander Technique Teacher, living and teaching in New York City. She specializes in working with premature babies and young children with severe problems.
FM Alexander Associates, 252 West 79th Street #10, New York, NY, 10024
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