Alexander Technique on the Curriculum
Armstrong describes her work with adults with special needs (first published in Statnews, May 2008).
as a schoolteacher in 1974 and soon moved into Special
Education, working with children with severe learning
disabilities. A few years later I began work in a new
venture, teaching adults in a residential hospital. This was
a pioneering unit, and its brief was the delivery of an
educational input to adults who had missed out because of
the nature of their disabilities.
couple of years I became very dissatisfied with our service.
Our interventions seemed to me to be fairly superficial and
not making a great deal of difference. It was at this point
that I remembered coming across the work of Dr Geoffrey
Waldon. His theory was that from birth, a human being begins
to learn about him/herself and the immediate environment by
means of the information conveyed by the sensory receptors
and decoded by the central nervous system. The main source
of this information is the organism's own movements in
space. "At the heart of Waldon theory is the premise that
all human understanding arises directly from the organising
of patterns of movement in time and space; that meaning
comes from movement."
visited Dr Waldon and observed him working with children but
had not really understood his theory of learning. Now the
time was ripe for another meeting. Several colleagues came
with me and we soon took on and developed his ideas. In
practice this required a lot of hands-on work with people
who had not developed normal movement patterns, and although
deeply rewarding it was exhausting and physically punishing
for the staff.
time I had my first Alexander Technique lesson, and thank
goodness I did. It helped me to cope with a physically heavy
workload and years later led me to try to introduce it to
the curriculum after I qualified as an Alexander teacher.
I now work
at Vine, an educational provision by Leeds City Council for
adults with moderate to severe learning disabilities, for
one day a week as an Alexander teacher.
As it says
in the STAT publicity, "Learning the Alexander Technique can
help prevent or alleviate conditions associated with undue
tension or poor posture." This is equally true for people
with learning disabilities. Their problems may include
abnormal muscle tone resulting in movement difficulties and
distorted body shape; inability to express need or deal with
stress, which might present as behavioural problems; heavy
reliance on habitual and stereotyped movement patterns
which, although self-comforting, are very limiting.
Alexander Technique is about conscious control, there is a
crucial difference in approach with pupils who have
significant developmental delay, as their level of
understanding may preclude co-operation. Generally, speech
is not useful in facilitating the lesson and, in fact, is a
distraction. When pupils may not understand what is being
said it is more effective to focus on direct hands-on work.
However, where it is appropriate I may say something like,
"look at the oranges, now look at me, now look out of the
window, what can you see?" to try and get movement and
flexibility in the neck (among other things).
addressing what and how we think we can bring about changes
in our use. This cannot be done directly with people with
severe learning disabilities but I have found that hands-on
Alexander work can effect a change even when there is no
discernible understanding or active co-operation by the
pupil. Taking cerebral palsy* as an example, as muscles
gradually release more movement is possible; feedback to the
brain is changed and, as alignment improves, perception of
the world can be more accurate. Mood can also be improved.
be setbacks. One of my pupils who was progressing well
suffered a series of epileptic seizures which had a negative
effect on his use. However, I have found that in general,
the Alexander Technique is beneficial for a range of
students attending Vine. It is also wonderfully compatible
with the Waldon Approach in trying to lead people into a new
and better manner of use.
palsy is a motor function disorder normally resulting in
abnormal muscle tone e.g. spasticity. (Mosby's Medical
Dictionary 2006, 7th ed. Mosby Inc. St. Louis)
© 2008 Eileen Armstrong