'Brain Gym' session helps children with disabilities

Exercises that incorporate the careful twining of young arms and legs can help calm and focus young minds and promote better learning among children with disabilities, officials say.

The Brain Gym seminar at Providence Medical Center's Swindells Children's Center was filled to capacity Friday as parents, grandparents and foster parents learned a series of brain/body exercises taught by Carla Judge, educational and neuro-kinesiology practitioner and licensed Brain Gym instructor.

Exercises taught at the two-day parent workshop Friday and Saturday were designed to help adults learn simple physical moves that can help their child learn to read, write, listen and focus better in school and at home, said Kathy Keese, resource consultant for Providence.

"This is beneficial for all children — and adults, too," said Keese. "It teaches them how to feel more focused. How to slow things down and center."

This was the first of other free Brain Gym training sessions that will be offered to local families, said Ann Saraceno, Swindells Children's Center director.

The Swindells Resource Center for Children and Families connects families, caregivers and friends of children with disabilities to resources, information and training. Families come to the Swindells Center seeking answers to many of the questions that surface in their everyday lives. Jackson County and the Swindells Center have entered into a formal partnership, which has increased the center's hours and created additional resources for families.

"This program is wonderful for children who are developmentally delayed, suffer from autism or attention-deficit disorders," said Saraceno. "We want to see all children reaching their highest ability."

Oregon has a high rate of children diagnosed with autism, Keese said. Parents with children experiencing language delays can teach their child certain movements that will stimulate language production, she added.

Describing the effect as similar to hitting acupressure points, the movements and positions stimulate nerve centers in all areas of the brain, Keese said.

"Left brain, right brain, all the areas," Keese said. "Teachers can do it with kids in the classroom. These are simply body movements."

Saraceno describes a neuro-kinesiology exercise where the parent guides a child to place his or her tongue on the palate, cross their lower legs and clasp their hands out in front of their body. Rolling their hands back up and under, bringing them to rest on their chest, completes the movement.

"It centers the body and focuses the mind," she said. "It also helps prevent tantruming."

Some movements involve touching pressure points on the ears, Keese said, adding children and adults often mimic forms of the exercises automatically or unconsciously.

"I'm one who massages my ears a lot when I'm feeling stressed," Keese said. "You see a lot of kids doing that too."

To become certified in the Brain Gym training could cost more than $1,500 per person, Saraceno said. But thanks to the collaboration between the county and the center, moms can sign up for future workshops and learn the methods and movements for free.

"They won't be certified," said Saraceno. "But they can do these exercises with their children."

Registration for this class was full in a day and a half. In Portland, a class that was slated to handle 65 was topped off at 85 adults, she said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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