Kids Beyond Limits is a great gift to every person who loves a child in great need of help. If that describes you, please take the important messages of this book to heart. The author’s approach to the child with special needs has evolved from her own rich clinical experiences, which showed her over and over again that the brains of these special children can change, often dramatically, to awaken and enable and empower and transform their young lives. We humans are all endowed with a plastic brain, that is, a brain that is capable of constantly changing throughout life. Even while they struggle, these children still operate with this great resource, ready to be taken advantage of by them, by the enlightened clinician who is trying so hard to help them, and by the parents and grandparents who love them. Anat Baniel brilliantly explains how the effective engagement of this marvelous, innate human capacity for positive brain change can be the stuff of ‘miracles’.
I have spent much of my own scientific career trying to understand how we can harness our capacity for brain remodeling for the benefit of children and adults in need of neurological help. From several decades of research, summarized in many thousands of published reports, we scientists have defined the ‘rules’ governing brain plasticity in neurological terms. We now know how to drive brains to change for the better.
It has been a great wonder to me, then, that my friend Anat Baniel, working in parallel along a completely different path, has defined almost exactly the same rules. Moreover, Anat interprets them here in practical and understandable human terms, in ways that should contribute richly to your own more enlightened parenting, grand-parenting, or clinical intervention.
As she explains in this book, Anat began her journey of discovery working closely with her mentor, the great Israeli visionary Moshe Feldenkrais. From this platform of understanding, through close observation of the thousands of children whom she has helped, Anat elaborated and crystallized her understanding of how to connect with, and then really help children in great need. As her reputation for providing help to the ‘hopeless child’ grew, she began to see children from almost every condition and diagnosis of special needs. From this almost unequalled personal experience, Anat discovered two great truths:
First: The principles that underlie the limitations of the child with special needs—which are the same ones that can lead to real progress for that child—are the principles of brain plasticity. Those principles are beautifully outlined here in practical human terms as Anat Baniel’s “Nine Essentials.”
Second: (and this is an even greater truth)—most ‘hopeless child’ cases aren’t.
This book is an important manifesto expressing important practical implications of what I have called “the brain plasticity revolution.” Our brains are subject to continuous change. Each time we acquire or refine a human ability, we physically re-wire—specialize by remodeling—our brain machinery. Every new or improved ability is a direct product of this kind of physical brain change. How can we make better use of this great human asset in our own lives? How can we assure that this human capacity is most effectively brought into play for the benefit of our own growing children? The child who struggles so hard just to respond, to initiate action, to understand, to move competently and to have command in his or her world, can especially make great use of their brain’s plasticity on their path to growing and evolving their capabilities in ways that contribute to a better life for them. If you can really connect with such a child—as the author so beautifully describes—then with appropriate guidance almost every kid with special needs is capable of substantial, continuous and sometimes almost unbelievable personal growth.
Don’t underestimate the complexity or difficulty that may be involved in getting a child with such struggles on a positive growth path. Building a more effective and more powerful brain requires us to start where the child is, and where that brain is right now. This can require a highly personalized approach and almost certainly a great deal of very hard work for all concerned. The principles in this book should provide you with a new understanding of how to achieve that personalization in order to begin helping that special child in your life to make new and real progress in a positive, empowering direction.
Remember that a little positive neurological change achieved each day can represent great progress over the course of a year, and even more so across the span of a young life. The author provides us with a number of wonderful examples that illustrate how each newly established level of neurobehavioral control opens up a whole new set of possibilities for each child. Anat Baniel explains how the great principles that govern the operations of a brain built for change can be practically applied to set up a child for continuous growth. Once the child you love is on that positive growth path, every little advance can be truly exciting for them, and for you.
I strongly encourage you to take the advice presented in this book seriously so that you have a clearer idea about how you might be able to really help that child that you love.
Michael Merzenich, PhD, Neuroscientist, Professor Emeritus UCSF, member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, and author of Soft-Wired .
View a video of Dr. Michael Merzenich speaking about Kids Beyond Limits.