Tag Archives: Outlier

A True Outlier: Mia Skins the Cat

Dr. Karen Pape wrote the following post on her site in August 2013. Sadly, Dr. Pape died on June 2, 2018. As a tribute to her, I’m reposting it here. Below her post, I share a comment about falling that I wrote in response to her original post. Shortly after Dr. Pape wrote this, I shared my  Reflections on Outliers Post by Dr. Karen Pape which in many ways was the seed for the career transformation that I have undertaken this year.  

In a previous post, I asked people to write me about Outliers…children who were doing more than expected after an early brain or nerve injury. This is Mia, demonstrating a new skill on her 4th birthday.

When you watch her “Skinning the Cat”, it is hard to believe that she had a stroke in the early days of life. The damage was to the left side of her brain, causing a right hemiplegia. Yet holding on to the rings, both hands and arms are working equally hard. Both legs swing up and over. There is no evidence of the hemiplegia. This result is not magic – it is the result of a determined child who has adopted the “I can do it” philosophy taught to her by an equally determined mother. I think both of them qualify as Outliers!

This is the link to the full story of how Mia first learned to swing, then to lift her legs up and finally over the top. http://marazoemia.net/2013/07/11/case-study-skin-the-cat/

Her mother’s description, still shots and videos, take you step-by-step through Mia’s learning process. First and foremost, Mia expects to be able to accomplish this task and she works hard, through many failures, until she reaches her goal. She is encouraged by her mother and also has the added role model of her older sister. If Zoe can do it, then I can do it! I am quite sure that during the learning process, Mia has taken some falls. She probably had a few bruises as well. Learning a new skill is a series of failures, trying new methodologies and finally success. Mia has the advantage of watching her older sister work through the same sequence of learning and she is up to the challenge.

How many children with an early brain or nerve problem are allowed to fall? When I was in clinical practice, I always checked young children for bruises on the legs. It is a normal finding in growing, exploring children. The absence of bruises often means there is an excess of watchful helpfulness. The cognitive neuroscience experts…and master coaches…understand the simple reality that learning is an experiential process. No able-bodied child has ever learned to walk without a lot of falls. Brain neuroplasticity is activated by a novel challenge. In the absence of challenge, the child’s normal habits dominate. In the past, many therapists had tried to get Mia to extend her arm and grasp. She learned how to do it when she had to…new habits are formed by novel, challenging tasks that have consequences. Read the whole post about Mia’s learning process. Her mother and sister offer some guidance and ensure her safety, but the process of trial and error…by Mia…is the way her brain learns the task.

At the end of the video, Mia says, “I flipped”. Her pride in herself is a precious gift and I am grateful to Mia’s Mom for sharing her story. We need more of them.

August 7, 2013 
Mara commented:

It’s such an honor to have Mia featured here along with Zoe and me. Thank you.

And, you guessed right, she definitely has fallen over and over. She falls all the time and happily proclaims before I can say anything, “I’m okay Mommy!” Then, she hops up and continues doing whatever has captured her attention. And manipulating band-aids for all those little boo-boos is excellent fine-motor practice for both hands, fundamentally a bimanual task.

Just yesterday, we were at a play structure and Mia was playing on a triple trapeze swing, similar to the one in the video above. Just six weeks after first doing skin-the-cat, she continues to take new risks. She can hook her legs with knees bent over the bar and hang head down. She was so bold as to let go with her hands and hang there for a few seconds seeking a thrill. And then, just as I was starting to panic wondering if she’d be able to find her grasp again on the rings she did and she flipped off the bar and had the biggest smile.

It takes some training as the parent to stand by and witness this kind of courage and determination, but the rewards are tremendous and often surprising.

Reflections on Outliers Post by Dr. Karen Pape

This bench is in the Ithaca Children’s Garden which we visited last weekend. The image seems fitting here. Just as my girls are attempting to match their hands to hands in the bench, parents of all sorts are doing their best by their kids.


Karen Pape, a remarkable physician focused on helping children with early neurological injury reach their fullest potential, recently wrote a post about Mia as an outlier, an outlier in the best possible sense as she’s doing more than expected. I feel deeply honored to be recognized by Karen Pape in this way. How can we get more children on track to reach their full potential?

I want to share the link here so others who may learn something or draw inspiration can find it if they happen to find their way here first. And, I also have some thoughts to share as the mom of Mia and Zoe. Parenting young children is relentlessly hard work. Parenting a child with special needs, specifically Mia who had a perinatal stroke, is a series of decisions, a lot of worry, educated guesses, trial-and-error, and a whole lot of wondering if those choices are right or wrong, too much or too little. In the early days, weeks, and months, darker worries and fears were more prominent for me.

Each of Mia’s birthdays has been another opportunity to see how much she has accomplished with support from me, Zoe, and many others whose help we have enlisted. Mia’s own accomplishments and her pride in tackling and mastering new challenges continues to be the greatest affirmation that some of those choices have served her well. My experience in a four-year Feldenkrais Method professional training prior to having children was the best possible education I could have had to parent Mia in recovering from her stroke. It taught me how to observe, to sense and feel, to give Mia the space and time to discover for herself how to do things. And, from the beginning, when Mia was first diagnosed, I understood that Feldenkrais lessons could be a key component in her development.

In starting this blog in May to support Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month, I have discovered my voice as an advocate and educator. That was not my intention, another welcome surprise on this parenting journey. I’m hearing from parents around the world that Mia’s story has inspired them. Some are even asking for specific suggestions about their children’s developmental needs.

I’m certain that there will be many more parenting decisions that challenge me with both of my girls. And, I’m sure that I will make many more mistakes. But, I no longer wonder if my overall approach to meeting Mia’s early developmental needs is appropriate. Mia has confirmed that over and over. Zoe continues to lead the way in modeling things that Mia can do. And, this recent validation from Karen Pape has motivated me to continue to share more details about how I have supported Mia’s development in this critical period of early childhood when brains are most plastic. Specifically, I have two more case study posts in mind using words, video, and still images. One will show Mia’s early locomotion from rolling and reaching to commando crawling to crawling on hands and knees and walking. The other will show Mia’s process in learning to ride a bicycle, starting with a balance bike and progressing to a two-wheeler, skipping training wheels.