Brachiation and the Doman Method

Often when teaching parents of children with special needs, I get the question: “What is brachiation and why do you use it?”

The dictionary defines Brachiation (from "brachium", Latin for "arm"), as a form of arboreal locomotion in which primates swing from tree limb to tree limb, using only their arms. During brachiation, the body is alternately supported under each arm.

A Gibbon brachiates

But for the staff at Doman International, brachiation is a form of treatment for children diagnosed with autism, ADD, developmental Delays, Trisomy 21, learning problems, cerebral palsy and other special needs. We have used this treatment for over 50 years.

Why use brachiation for children for special needs?

Children with special needs often have chests that are smaller than average, and Glenn Doman found decades ago that these children often had smaller lung capacity. He had the chests of children with special needs measured for decades and found that most of these children had chests much smaller than the average child.

Why is a small chest a bad thing for children with special needs?

A small chest might mean smaller lung capacity. Oxygen is the food of the brain and essential for brain function and development. If breathing is less than optimal for these children, it can impact their overall development. Any issue with breathing can impact cognitive and speech development, as well as physical stamina, and make an individual even more prone to respiratory illnesses.

The staff of Doman International have many respiratory programs for special needs children. These programs are designed to improve the rate and depth of breathing. Brachiation is designed to strengthen lung capacity and chest size, along with these respiratory programs.

A secondary result of brachiation is strengthening of the hands and improved hand-eye coordination. Brachiation can be essential for improving fine motor skills, independence for children with the use of their hands, and even developing writing and typing skills.

Teaching a Child to Brachiate

While I cannot give you all the details in this blog post about how to teach a child to brachiate, you can find an entire program and schedule in the book “Fit Baby, Smart Baby, Your Baby!” This book was written by my father-in-law, Glenn Doman, along with my husband Douglas. The book gives you all the instructions you could need. Instead, I want to give a few tips that I have seen that help parents immensely in the 40 years I have taught this program to families.


1. Get a brachiation ladder: This is fundamental. You need a ladder in your own home, rather than having to travel to a playground or school to do this program. Just having the ladder in your home is the biggest step you need to take to make this program a success.

 2. Read “Fit Baby , Smart Baby, Your Baby” by Glenn and Douglas Doman, the schedule outlined in this book for some parents is enough. Many children have learned to brachiate from their parents, just because parents read this book.

 3. Have your child watch other children brachiate.  Don’t skip this very simple step. Sometimes I send a family home and tell them to focus on teaching a well, older sibling how to brachiate.  When the younger child sees older brother or sister brachiating, they say, “I want to do it!” and it makes parent’s life much easier!

4. Begin by having your child hang from a wooden dowel. This will build up the strength in your child’s arms and hands, and make brachiating much easier for them.

 5. Always take a 5 minute space between sessions of hanging or brachiating. This will allow your child’s hands to rest properly. If you don’t, your child might experience discomfort or tiring in their hands throughout the day.

 6. Always stop before your child wants to stop. It’s always best to stop a session with your child wanting more, than forcing them to go longer than they want!

 7. When your child hangs well, between 20-60 seconds, then your child is ready to starting brachiating. Begin to teach your child to swing.  Begin slowly, and spot your child from the hips. 

 8. Doing this program with a high frequency is important, so make up songs and games to get your child to want to get back up on the ladder.  A tip I used with my four children - I placed a favorite book on the top of the ladder, at the very end.  My kids would swing down the ladder to pull the book down, and enjoy reading their favorite book with mom and dad.

As a mother of four children, brachiation was a large part of our daily routine as my children grew up.  For years our brachiation ladder was in the middle of our living room.  In the end, it was cheaper than living room furniture!  We always had other children coming to our house to brachiate.  There is one thing I have noticed with my children, and all other children who learn to brachiate. Once a child can brachiate independently, they never want to stop. Once they have the wonderful feeling of moving from rung to rung on their own, it will be impossible for you to keep the off the ladder!

Enjoy this wonderful process with your children. Implementing these simple, but crucial tips, will help your child learn to brachiate independently as soon as possible.