Learning/Doing/Teaching with Speech-Handicapped Children

Swami Chandrajyoti Saraswati, Dip. Spc. Ed (Germany)

Part 1


"Learning - is finding out, what you already know.
Doing - is demonstrating that you know it.
Teaching - is reminding others that they know just as well as you."
(Richard Bach, 'illusions')

This little poem is for me the conclusion of all the thoughts and experiences I have had in the last few years while working as a speech therapist and social worker in different kindergartens, schools and youth centres in Germany. In this time of learning, doing and teaching speech-handicapped children and their families I find myself quite often helpless and frustrated. Dissatisfied with the techniques I had learned at university and finding no educational and human ideals there at all, I started to search for new and advanced methods of special education and found that yoga can give many answers.

1. Ideal Special Education

Before pointing out all characteristics of speech-handicapped children (part 1), before describing all the possibilities of a yogic approach in speech-therapy (part 2), and even before mentioning all the problems families and the yoga teacher have with their students and with themselves (part 3), I want to discuss in general some ideals of special education.

From a yogic point of view the goal of special education is to open the door and the windows to the genius inside every handicapped child, which means to awaken his or her dormant potential. The emphasis of therapy should be on helping the children to utilise their hidden powers to the greatest and most positive extent. Usually this is quite easy, because of their suffering, the children and their families are very open to new methods which help, guide and free them. Treated in the right way their strong bondages, which prevent their self-expression and their ability to lead a happy life, can turn around and act as catalysts towards establishing an integrated personality of body, mind and spirit. Because total health contains all these dimensions, in true healing and therapy all three levels have to be treated together, not, as is mostly being done, treating only the somatic level on the surface.

2. Therapy

The therapeutic setting contains three different interacting groups:

  • child/teenager
  • peers/society
  • parents/yoga teacher/therapist

From a holistic point of view all are connected energetically through working and playing together. It is important that no member of this setting has a fixed role, so at the same time everybody is a 'learner', a 'doer' and a 'teacher'. For everybody in this setting, yoga therapy gives the chance to free blocked energy on the mental, the pranic and the somatic levels, and to go beyond one's limitations. Through this expansion each one's potential can be expressed in the best and most fulfilling way. In this understanding healing is happening spontaneously; induced by the therapist, but caused by the interplay of all the interdependent aspects of the energy flow.

I. 'LEARNING' - The speech-handicapped child

All participants of the therapy setting are learning and because everybody has their own specific limitations, we must acknowledge everybody is in a way 'handicapped'. The main problem of the speech-handicapped child is the lack of verbal and also non-verbal expression and communication. According to yoga philosophy these qualities all relate to vishuddhi chakra, and as we will see most of the diseases of these children appear on the somatic level in the area of the throat. Before we go into details it's important to know a little about normal child development, so that we can discuss the irregularities of development against this background.

(i) Normal Child Development

Speech is one of the most advanced abilities that human beings achieve in their childhood. If we talk to a normal child we usually do not give much respect to this quality, but only if all the learning processes in the different stages of development (1) have been regular, will the child be able to speak by the age of about 4 years (a).

- During the 9 months in the womb - apart from the growth of the body and the brain- the most stimulating and important influences on the development are the slow swinging movements of the baby in the amniotic fluid of the uterus and the emotional vibrations of the mother (vestibular stimulation) (3). - After the birth,which should be as gentle and relaxing as possible, development as a whole can be described on three different but interdependent levels:

a) motor-sensory level

In the first two years the five senses of the baby are developing separately. Later on the child explores the world around through the addition and connection of the motor-sensorial functions. For example the child is learning the co-ordination of the eyes and touch/body movement, if it's trying to catch a ball.

b) emotional level

In the first few months and years the baby experiences the love of the mother, so that the emotional link between them becomes a very strong bonding, and after some time, also the father, the other members of the family and the surrounding environment participate in it.

c) mental level

Here the child is developing his mental abilities, for example the knowledge that objects in the outside world are permanent. That means, the child knows, after some experience, that the mother is still alive, even if he can't see her, because she has gone to the kitchen; or that a ball is still existent if I hide it behind my back. By the age of three or four more difficult mental operations will be learned - Summarized and shown through the picture of the house below- all these non-verbal abilities (the basement, the ground floor and the first and second floor) have to be established before the first word (the roof) can be spoken. So before the child can say 'Mama' it has to have the ability to pronounce well (sense of sight, hearing and touch), it has to experience the emotional link with his mother, and mentally it has to understand that the sound 'Mama' is a symbolic representation for the object 'mother'.

The "House" of Normal Child Development

Age communiction/expression through speech (roof)
  non-verbal expression  
4 connection other surroundings higher mental operations (second floor)
2 seperate development of senses emotional link to parents low mental operations (first floor)
0 motro-sensory level emotional level mental level (ground floor)
birth intra-uterine phase vestibular stimulation (basement)

(ii) Irregularities in Development / Forms of Retardation

When we now, with this background in mind, look again at the speech-handicapped child, we can understand the symptoms and the roots of his disabilities much better. The speech irregularities a yoga teacher may find in handicapped children are a vivid mixture of diverse conditions.

Before he can start to learn and play with other children a serious diagnosis of the complex aetiology or history of the disabilities is absolutely necessary for planning a correct therapy outline.

In general we can say that all these irregularities in speech and behaviour are caused mainly by retardation, either physically or mentally. Retardation means, from the yogic point of view, an imbalance or blockage of energy (prana), which cannot be expressed properly.

a) Irregularities in Speech Development

If we analyse the irregularities in speech development we have to see first if the organs, muscles and joints of the child- which are mainly responsible for correct pronunciation - are in a healthy condition:

breathing: abdomen, lungs and the muscles of the thorax and chest

phonation: area of the larynx with the vocal cords

articulation: mouth (lips, tongue, teeth), nose, ears and eyes

Above all we need a well-functioning brain to deal with the sensorial information.

If there is also a lack of correct grammar and meaning, we have to find out next if the child had in his development other problems on the physical level, like:

  • dysfunctioning and disintegration of the 5 senses
  • diseases of body and brain during pregnancy, birth or early childhood

Often we will find slight brain disease or damage, a difficult intrauterine and perinatal phase, chronic digestive disorders, headache and bronchitis/rhinitis, and extremely tensed or lax muscles.

If we move to the closely linked disturbances on the emotional level, we may find :

  • maternal rejection (pre- and postnatal), along with nutritional problems
  • education based on punishment or other kinds of neurotic and repressive family structures
  • delivery to the dictate of the pressures of modern life, for example the pollution of the child's mind through negativity and violence on TV, video and advertisements, destroying his imaginative faculties

These bad influences in the environment cause a lot of tensions in the mind, which again will have an influence on the mental development of the child.

In yogic terminology emotional disturbances are the result of an imbalance of manas shakti (the mental component) and prana shakti (the vital component), (4.) as follows:

  • Where there is excess mental energy and a lack of prana, the child suffers from depression. He lacks dynamism and cannot transform his mental energy into creative action.
  • Conversely, if the child has excess prana and not enough manas, he becomes aggressive, like a fast moving car with no brakes.

When the child becomes older the emotional problems are also related to premature sexual maturation, in which the nervous system and the hormonal secretions are out of balance. Here the role of the pineal gland (closely linked to ajna chakra) is important. The pineal begins to degenerate at the age of about eight, which signals the early onset of sexual maturation. Summary: the retardation of the child has its main root cause in early physical, mental and emotional deprivation, which acts as an obstacle in regular speech development.

b) Stuttering

Here the root cause is to be found on the emotional level. Usually the small child has experienced a shock, a trauma or extreme distress in the past, and the anxiety, fear and anger built-up at that time, has not yet been released. These stored frightening impressions of the mind find their correlation on the physical level. Many stuttering children have very tensed muscles in the whole body and especially around the throat, the neck, the mouth and the eyes, and the results are false breathing and interruptive speech.

Maybe it can also be assumed that there is an imbalance of the two hemispheres of the brain (where the fluidity of the speech is controlled), which is responsible for the disturbances. Some research should be done here in measuring the brain waves of a stuttering patient before and after a yoga session.

c) Mutism

Here the main cause may be psychological problems in the relationship between mother and child. Often the important physical contact between mother and baby in the first few hours and days alter birth- the stimulation of the skin and the senses through a loving touch - is missed in the biography of these children. So the base for communication hasn't been established in time and results in total verbal refusal. This refusal is often mirrored on the physical level, where it appears in very weak, undeveloped and lax muscles.

So in conclusion we see that because of the different kinds of aetiology, each child was unable to express strong physical drives, deep emotional needs and desires, and the longing for love, care and attention either on the non-verbal or on the verbal level.

(To de continued)