As therapists, teachers, and parents, we have a wide range of options for working with children to choose from. The choice of a particular method depends not only on our skills, but on each child’s needs and psychomotor abilities as well. And last but not least, we should take into account the goal we want to achieve with the exercises.
In my work as a therapist, I often used by the Activity Programmes for Body Awareness, Contact, and Communication, developed by Marianna and Christopher Knill. The method is divided into the Introductory Programme, four programmes with different levels of complexity, and the SPH Special Programme, dedicated to children with the most severe motor deficits.
The method is based on the authors’ belief that touch is the most important means through which a child develops. Physical contact helps establish a child’s very first relationships, and allows a child to feel the first emotions in life. It follows, then, that the ability to enter contact and communicate with the environment may depend on a child’s tactile sensitivity.
Awareness and feeling of one’s body and the way in which these data are acquired and organised are extremely important in Knills’ approach. Any disturbances in the image and awareness of a child’s own body may lead to motor issues, which cause problems with communication (such as inadequate sending and reception of non-verbal messages). The latter, in turn, lead to emotional problems and a lack of a feeling of safety, preventing a child’s harmonious development. This is why it is so important to develop a child’s body awareness, as such awareness is necessary to coordinate one’s movements and adjust them to all activities.
Knill’s method improves body awareness through simple movements performed to the rhythm of specially-selected music. The music reflects the accompanying actions, and is different for every action. Its aim is to focus the child’s attention on each activity. The predictability of the music creates a feeling of safety, which is necessary for the therapy to be effective.
The methodsomatognosis can be used to develop somatognosis, the ability to enter and maintain social contacts and understand spoken language, and visual, auditory, and motor coordination, as well as for entertainment. Knill’s method can also develop imitation skills and awareness of the self and help the child respect boundaries and relax.
The programmes can be used for children at all ages. The choice of a particular activity should take into account the child’s intellectual capacity and motor disability.
Even the best thought-out child therapy is going to fail if the therapists, teachers, and parents don’t understand how much success depends on themselves. Effective therapy is only possible is they can establish a good relationship with the child. It is particularly important to use one’s voice skillfully and establish eye contact with the child. Equally important are the ability to support the child physically and the ability to suspend the support at the right moment to foster the child’s independence from it and allow him or her to have freedom of initiative.
However, the most important consideration is to choose methods that we feel good about ourselves. It is not worth applying techniques that are uncomfortable to us, since children can sense our reluctance and insincerity very quickly, which will discourage them from the exercises and forfeit any effects of our work.