"I can now sometimes see in my son the little boy he might have been if he hadn't been born paraplegic"

This is what Richard's mother told me just before he turned seven. When she had brought him into my practice for the first time he had been four and a half years old. At that time Richard's left leg had just come out of plaster (intended to 'get the heel down', but this had not been successful) and was now in a plastic splint going up to his knee. As a result of long-term under-use Richard's calf muscles were thin and weak. The little boy himself was not very happy with yet another adult-expert entering his life. Initially I found it hard to win his trust and engage his interest for more than a few minutes. Sometimes I wondered about my capacity to effectively protect the child, myself, the window, and a mirror against sudden explosions of anger and frustration. It soon became apparent that such eruptions of violently aggressive behaviour were fuelled by deep panic and fear. Acting in accordance with the Feldenkrais maxim of "You have to meet the person where they are" required an approach I had never tried before.

Learning must be fun

I looked for ways of engaging Richard in all sorts of mock-fights so he could 'safely' express aggression and also read his own fears mirrored in my face whenever he attacked me. Exaggerated flinching or ducking to avoid a soft missile never failed to make him hoot with laughter. Another Feldenkrais maxim began to prove its soundness: "Learning must be fun". What had begun as rough horse-play gradually turned into more constructive activities. These in turn gave me more and more opportunities for initially somewhat surreptitious Functional Integration work with the child. richard

When the splint came off for a trial period during the summer, things started to change dramatically and an amazing process of transformation got under way. Richard and I finally became friends. He started bringing all sorts of interesting toys and books for me to look at. Instead of the ghastly action men that used to accompany him, Richard now brought Ben, a cuddly ape. A little later Andy, a soft doggy he had had since baby-days, made his first appearance. For a while these two faithful companions took a very active part in our games. By now - at the age of seven - Richard still brings these companions to our sessions - more for old times' sake. They usually sit and 'watch' what we are doing and listen to our conversations. In these conversations Richard constantly surprises me with his intelligence and questioning mind, and also with his incredible breadth of general knowledge.

After he joined a football club Richard started teaching me, for instance how to 'dribble' a ball through obstacle courses. His skill in demonstrating this was simply breath-taking. So was the demonstration of basic Judo moves when he added martial arts classes to his leisure activities.

The interest in Judo turned out to be heaven-sent. I could show Richard one of Moshe Feldenkrais's earliest books. The impressive cover photo shows the author throwing an opponent and inside there are many exciting sketches of Judo falls and throws. Our exploration of Judo-related themes is proving very interesting for both of us and as a result our sessions are beginning to resemble 'adult' Feldenkrais lessons. These lessons improved Richard's agility and joy in moving while sporting activities strengthened his calf muscles.

When he finally had to go to hospital again to have the angle of flexion in his left ankle joint measured, it was decided that he would not need another splint "for the time being". Both the doctor and physiotherapist were satisfied with Richard's "way of walking".

Richard's Transformation: Becoming Himself