The best thing about MovNat is that you don’t have to be fit to move – you have to move to be fit. That’s what makes it such a great method for teaching children with special needs.
I’m an American Council of Exercise certified personal trainer that runs Edifice Academy, a personal training company headquartered in Singapore.
Together, we work to empower people of all ages, bodies and levels to regain functionality and movement through a structured syllabus that progressively increases their range of motor function.
With the right set of skills, communication, and teamwork, I help children with special needs regain their independence, confidence, and freedom through movement.
Understanding Special Needs Children
Before I explain how MovNat can help children with special needs to regain movement functionality, it’s important to understand that simple, everyday movements most of us think of as second nature are Herculean tasks for them.
I’d like to use children with cerebral palsy as an example. Often, children with cerebral palsy can’t do things like walk or run, climb up stairs or carry schoolbags. This can affect their participation in crucial childhood activities, such as school trips and sports activities.
Conditions like cerebral palsy don’t just affect a child’s physical development – it also affects their mental well-being. Being stuck inside all day can create a sense of chronic boredom, and the lack of freedom they have impacts their self-esteem.
As a result, children with cerebral palsy can become dependent on caretakers and support structures like elevators or handicapped bars. They may experience discrimination from their peers, and exclusion from normal activities.
The good news is that the physical and emotional effects of cerebral palsy can be managed through physical therapy and training. You just need to start with baby steps!
Going Slow: Breaking Movement Down
To teach a child, we need to get down to their level. Every coaching session I teach always starts with an assessment of the child’s needs to understand their level of development and the learning techniques that work for them.
For example, when teaching a child with cerebral palsy to climb up the stairs, our first steps don’t start with an order to take the first step, but a request to try leaning forwards.
If a child has issues with leaning forward, we start by practicing a simple lean against a wall. Then, we progressively try the forward lean with less and less of the support structure until the child can lean forward autonomously.
From there, it’s just moving onto the next step until the child can take their first step up the stairs. That could be balancing with on one foot until they can take a step up, or strength exercises for the child to be able to carry their own weight.
The goal is to explain to the child why what we’re doing will benefit them in the long run, even when it seems meaningless to them in the present. I adapt my teaching style to fit the child’s method of “communication”, whether the most effective way to boost their progress is by leading by example or giving visual and auditory cues.
I also use metaphors and analogies to link the exercises we’re doing together back to real – life movements – for example, squats are likened to sitting down for food with their family. Regardless of the child’s attitude in class, it’s important to establish rules and guidelines at the start of each session, so that both of us are on the same page.
Through experiential treatment, I pinpoint the source of their problem with the movement – in this case, the inability to balance – and then establish a systematized set of physical drills for them to develop in this area.
Exercises For Children With Special Needs
I’ve found that children respond best when I come up with personalized solutions that address a specific issue in their body. With over eight years’ worth of experience in the industry, I’ve developed a few common exercises that target three issues common in children with cerebral palsy.
Firstly, children with cerebral palsy have poor dorsiflexion, where they are unable to flex their heels and constantly walk on tiptoe to regain a sense of balance. They also have an unstable gait and are unable to maneuver smoothly from the waist down.
So, I teach them to increase flexibility and strength. I coach both the caretaker and the child on correct form for stretching, impart myofascial techniques that release tension in the lower body, and work with the child to achieve a full squat without falling. All it takes are simple demonstrations and patient coaching.
Secondly, the core is essential to our ability to perform full-body movements, which means children with cerebral palsy, who have poor core strength, can’t squat, move on all fours, or jump without assistance.
The solution is to run the child through a diverse spectrum of movements to expose them to dynamic positions. That includes crawling, lifting, and getting up and down from the floor – movements that require full body engagement and relies on the core.
Thirdly, low forearm supination in children with cerebral palsy limits their ability to rotate their hands, which means that basic actions such as pushing themselves off the surface of a floor are difficult to accomplish. In addition, a lack of grip strength affects the child’s ability to carry heavy items.
To increase their mobility, I give them tasks that mimic everyday activities to increase their agility and control over. We carry basic items together – single handed, two handed, or carrying items while balancing on a line. We also practice getting up from the ground unassisted.
I challenge them to hang from bars – with both arms, one arm, and in assisted pull-ups. Forearm supination drills are also conducted through loaded and unloaded sets, where they rotate their hands up and down to increase their range of movement.
Ultimately, it’s all about helping children regain their sense of pride and independence. To that end, there are three principles I stick by when it comes to the job: teaching efficient, practical and adaptable movements that I’ve adapted through the MovNat method.
That means increasing the physical functionality of a client through basic everyday movements that anyone, regardless of ability can learn.
As Singapore’s only Level 2 Certified MovNat trainer, I’ve seen how a systematized, organized syllabus can benefit children with special needs.
With the right temperament, empathy and patience, this approach, when applied correctly, can expand a child’s range of movement and help them to regain a sense of freedom.
About the Author
The founder of fitness training company, Edifice Academy, Edwin Lim is a professional fitness coach certified under the American Council of Exercise and the first trainer in Singapore to receive a Level 2 Certificate in MovNat. Specializing in physical rehab and rejuvenation, Edwin works with post-injury athletes and special needs children to improve their total motor function. By re-introducing functional movement into everyday life, Edwin helps people to regain their strength, confidence and freedom.
Moving towards a healthier and happier life may seem like an insurmountable goal for those experiencing unique life circumstances or living with special needs. But no matter our ability, age or size, fitness can be a fulfilling and rewarding journey for everyone. By combining sports science with Natural Movement, Edwin has helped many to regain functional mobility, and in the process, regain a new outlook on life.
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