Improving Autism and Sensory Processing with the Feldenkrais Method®

A large percentage of autistic children struggle with sensory processing challenges. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) share these challenges as well. It could show up as an aversion to touch or clothing, an unwillingness to eat foods with certain textures, or an inability to cope with noisy environments. These sensory sensitivities can cause a lot of stress to both the child and the family, and fuel fears about the child’s ability to attend school, make friends, or eat enough nutrients to be healthy.

Parents are often surprised and confused to hear that the Feldenkrais Method®—a system of movement education—can be helpful for Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). If their child doesn’t have visible motor skill delays, how would movement lessons help his/her sensory processing?

sensory processing

Imagine that you could only process the primary colors—red, yellow, and blue…

…but you couldn’t distinguish the shades in between. This means that you couldn’t see secondary colors (purple, orange, green).  In order to see those colors, you need to be able to distinguish the difference between totally yellow, totally blue, and yellow-blue (green).

Now imagine walking through a forest, surrounded by all the green trees and grass. Without the ability to distinguish yellow-blue (green) from blue or yellow, how would the forest look to you? You might see the leaves as yellow. Or perhaps you would think they were blue. Or maybe some psychedelic combination of yellow and blue leaves. If you couldn’t tell the difference between “a lot of blue” and “only a little bit of blue”…well, the forest would look like a very different place. And not just different, but confusing. Without the ability to distinguish between all the subtle shades of color, it would be hard to tell where one leaf ended and another began. It would even be hard to tell where the blue sky ended and the “blue” trees began. If you can’t sense the difference, then everything seems the same.

This ability to sense subtle differences between one stimulus and another is called “differentiation.” 

In the Feldenkrais Method®, we improve the differentiation of movement and body sensation (rather than color vision, in the analogy above). Practitioners use gentle touch and tiny movements to help your child learn to sense the subtle difference between one sensation in their body and another. This requires the child’s nervous system to make very fine distinctions between what’s easier, and what’s less easy.

Unlike traditional physical therapy, the Feldenkrais Method® is not about improving strength or flexibility.

Instead, the Feldenkrais Method focuses on refining the ease of a movement, and on helping your child sense where they are in space with greater clarity. This deep, subtle form of physical education sets them up for greater success with the strength and flexibility challenges that traditional physical therapy provides.

To summarize, while the Feldenkrais Method® isn’t a “cure” for autism or SPD, it can help with the sensory challenges that can cause autism and SPD to be stressful for a child and their family. If your child has autism, Feldenkrais is a very gentle way to increase sensory accuracy, and help your child feel more comfortable in his/her own body and environment.


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