Tag Archives: monkey bars

Mia Changita

Changita means “little monkey” in Spanish. We are lucky to have Latina au pairs caring for my girls so here is “Mia Changita” doing her monkey thing!

Mia continues to amaze me, now at age six. This video is from a few weeks ago. Her inventiveness, strength, experimentation, and courage are all palpable. And, it’s really hard to tell that she had a stroke as she does most everything with both arms and hands and both legs and feet.

If you want to have some appreciation for this beyond imagining the abdominal strength needed to do this, check out my earlier post about Monkey Mia from when Mia first mastered the monkey bars at age four, or this one on neuroplasticity, or Mia learning to do skin the cat, and why Mia is an outlier as explained by Karen Pape, MD.

Tonight, Mia found the splint we used for constraint therapy when she was a toddler and until she was nearly 3 years old. She put it on even though it’s too small, and said she was going to give herself a “challenge” and give “righty” practice doing everything and that’s how she got ready for bed, using only her hand that doesn’t work quite as well as the other one for fine motor tasks. I asked her if she wants us to get a new splint that fits her better so she can do this “challenge” more often. She said yes. She asked me the name of the orthotist that we need to go see. I told her he’s Dr. Wall and he’s very funny. His name cracked her up.

Neuroplasticity

This post is part of my streak of posts in the month of May to spread awareness about pediatric stroke. Please consider donating to support Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association, an organization that has helped our family with support and information.

When 8-month-old Mia started to crawl with her right hand fisted, it was unclear when she’d be able to open that hand consistently and at will, unclear that a month before turning 4-years-old, she’d be able to teach herself to swing like a monkey. But, here she is doing that. I think neuroplasticity can explain it, and all the supports that I have put in place for Mia to continue to learn.

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My own journey with neuroplasticity began more than 20 years ago when I first experienced the Feldenkrais Method® via an Awareness Through Movement® class in La Jolla, California. Moshe Feldenkrais was way ahead of his time, inventing a method to rehabilitate his knee based on his knowledge of physics, judo, and his observations of how babies naturally learn and develop. He soon found applications for all kinds of people of all ages who wanted to improve their functioning. I went to that same class every Thursday at 6 pm for six years all through graduate school and my postdoc. I went initially to help heal a shoulder injury suffered shot putting in high school and exacerbated by playing varsity ice hockey in college. I kept going because the lessons taught me something about myself, about going at a pace that was not my habit. I moved to Ann Arbor, had enough disposable income to seek private Functional Integration® lessons. After a year, I moved to Massachusetts where I still live and once again, I sought out new practitioners. After a few years, I still couldn’t get enough so I entered a professional training program in New York City for four years in the Feldenkrais Method.

It’s as if my apprenticeship in the Feldenkrais Method perfectly prepared me to parent Mia with acute mindfulness about her development and the power of neuroplasticity that modern science is now substantiating in concrete ways.

Through Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association, I am part of a mailing list for families of “Hemi-Kids” – that is children who have impaired use of one side of their bodies. This week, on the Hemi-Kids list, I read of Karen Pape, a neonatologist who has a very progressive approach towards treating children who had early neurological problems. She has a fascinating Ted talk on her site.

Pape’s ideas are completely aligned with those of Moshe Feldenkrais and with how I have been parenting Mia and advocating for her for nearly four years. Habits can get in the way of better functioning and the best way to shake up habits to retrain the brain is to introduce novelty in a challenging situation where some focus is required. In Pape’s Ted talk, she shows a little girl reaching above her head with both arms while standing. She has difficulty doing so fully with her left arm. But, when asked to do jumping jacks, the extension is much more complete and natural. When I saw that, I was immediately reminded of Mia’s monkey bar adventures from last Friday when I captured her extending her right arm beautifully to accomplish her own self-defined goal of mastering the monkey bars.

Zoe is 6 and Mia is nearly 4 and so Zoe has a lot more questions about Mia’s differences than Mia does at this point. In a recent conversation, Zoe stated, “Mia has had two things wrong with her body, her ears and her righty.” As a baby, Mia had recurrent ear infections, ear tubes, and recently a procedure to remove the one tube that didn’t fall out on its own. I reframed for Zoe and for Mia who was in the car too. I offered, “There’s nothing wrong with Mia’s right arm or hand. She had a stroke near birth and that injury in her brain means she needs to work a bit harder and smarter to learn to use righty.”

Pape asserts that baby brains recover better than adult brains in rats and monkeys and she thinks humans too, though not enough research has been done to fully validate the human conclusion. I believe it to be true too since young brains start out as a tabula rasa. Pape’s vision of continual improvement being possible is consistent with my view that the sky is the limit for Mia’s functioning and potential. One of my favorite Feldenkrais quotes goes something like this, “Make the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy elegant.”

Monkey Mia

There is a place on the west coast of Australia called Monkey Mia. It’s famous for the dolphins that come ashore. I was there in about 1995 after a research cruise that ended in Perth. But, we never saw any dolphins.

“Monkey Mia” is a good nickname for my Mia now who seems utterly determined to master the monkey bars as soon as she can.

This evening, we went to the park. Zoe is a pro at the monkey bars, so fast that I couldn’t get any pictures of her on them. I was also trying to help spot Mia. Little did I know that Mia had moved on and no longer wanted my help.

Zoe is trying to master her next challenge with climbing trees  with branches that are kind of hard to reach.

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So, here’s Mia in a series of action shots. Her focus and motor planning are palpable. She makes the riskier big reach with lefty as she knows that’s safer for her and then she’s able to reach and extend her fingers to grasp with righty.

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Every occupational therapist who has worked with Mia has focused on helping her extend her right arm, hand, and wrist. This shot below is an incredibly clear view of how well she has to do that to succeed in her goal of mastering the monkey bars.

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And, here’s a video of Mia putting it all together on the monkey bars.

Earlier this week, Mia figured out how to get started on her bike on her own. She’s been riding it well for a few weeks but still needed a tiny push to get going. No longer. It’s almost as if each new motor skill she masters drives her to find the next challenge. In the last picture above, she’s reaching for the fifth bar. There are only two or three after that. And, she wants to go back to the park to practice so she can go all the way across. She did the monkey bars so many times this evening, dropping to the ground each time her arms gave out. She’d get up and say, “I need to try again.” I started to worry that her determination was so intense she might keep trying past the point of fatigue and injure herself. I gave my 5 minute warning and we biked home for bedtime snack.

This post is part of my streak of posts in the month of May to spread awareness about pediatric stroke. Please consider donating to support Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association, an organization that has helped our family with support and information.

Update on September 3, 2013

Here’s Mia yesterday at 4 years 2 months old (four months after her early forays shown above) showing me that she has been practicing and can go all the way across the monkey bars. Note how confident and nonchalant she is. She just knows she can do it and she does. You might also notice that she consistently reaches first with her left arm (unaffected) and then with her right arm (affected by stroke). She does this for every one of the seven bars, reaching first with lefty, then with righty. She happens to be wearing the same lucky butterfly shirt she wore in May when I first captured her learning to swing on the monkey bars in the still and video images above.