Glenn Doman's Legacy: Physical Development for Children with Special Needs

Glenn Doman was a physical therapist. He received many awards for physical therapy. At one time, he was the darling of the Physical Therapy Department of the University of Pennsylvania. In his early career, he used his abilities for special needs children with great heart and zeal. This he explains in the book, What To Do About Your Brain Injured Child

He goes on to explain that from the beginning of the Rehabilitation Center at Philadelphia in 1955, he and his original staff of occupational and speech therapists did everything in their power for the brain injured children who were their patients. After many years they studied their results and found they were not acceptable. Their objective was for the children to become totally well. Their best efforts with physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy did not result in significant progress, not to mention wellness. They realized that they would have to completely change what they were doing. 

With the help of Glenn’s brilliant mentor, Dr. Temple Fay,  it was clear that they were treating the symptoms of brain injury, not the cause, the brain-injury itself. Science had known for more than a hundred years that one cannot treat the symptoms and make the cause go away. 

Their objective was wellness, for brain-injured children to be equal to their peers physically, intellectually, and socially. The first question they had to answer was- what is wellness? What is required for an average child to be capable and average for her or his age? So they studied well babies and determined the basic neurological steps that had to be attained for a newborn baby, a twelve-month old, a two, three, and a six-year-old child.

In terms of mobility what they found was so obvious. They found what every mother and grandmother have known for millennia. At birth, a well-baby needs to be able to move her arms and legs well. Then she needs to crawl on her belly. Then the baby pushes up onto her hands and knees into the quad position to be able to creep. Next, the baby stands up holding onto a piece of furniture and walks holding on to the furniture. We call this “cruising”. Then the glorious day arrives when the baby stands and takes her first independent steps. From there walking expands rapidly in distance, quality, and non-stop walking. Then the toddler learns to walk outside and up and down hills. This leads to running, which the children adore. And finally, the child learns to hop and skip. 

This straight and narrow pathway followed by the average child is the foundation for the development of mobility of brain-injured children. Effective and sometimes very rapid progress is achieved by simply arranging for the brain-injured child to follow the same pathway, followed by his well peers. Unbelievably, this is not conventional therapy for brain-injured children. More often than not brain-injured children are never given the opportunity to be on the floor at all.  It’s impossible to follow the pathway for well babies and toddlers if the hurt child is never given the opportunity to be on the floor in the first place. This is the great tragedy played out for millions of brain-injured children around the world. They do not progress significantly in mobility because they are denied even the opportunity to move on the floor that average children have.

In my forty-five years as a child brain developmentalist, I have had the great pleasure and privilege of seeing hundreds of severely paralyzed brain-injured children crawl on their tummies, creep on their hands and knees, walk, and run. Often parents were told the children were hopeless and would never progress in mobility. Was this marvelous progress the result of very advanced technology costing million? No. It was the result of the parents giving the brain-injured child extraordinary opportunity to move on the floor. A solution that costs nothing. 

Give the brain-injured child unlimited opportunity on a warm, clean, safe floor in the prone position. This is Glenn Doman’s legacy. It is true he developed many additional specialized sensory and motor programs to speed the progress of the children even more. The Doman International Institute’s physical staff continue these programs and are constantly innovating and adding new environments and programs. 

I have never seen a single paralyzed brain-injured child who did not follow the above pathway learn to walk. I have seen hundreds follow it, walk, run, and in some cases become physically excellent. The solution does not involve millions or billions of dollars. Just give the brain-injured child unlimited opportunity on a warm, clean, safe floor in the prone position. This solution will save the governments around the world millions and millions of dollars of the social services for children who are no longer immobile. 
Almost seventy years after Glenn Doman discovered these principles, today even the well baby is at risk. Well babies do not get the opportunity to be on their bellies on the floor. Physical therapists complain that average babies are way behind in their physical development because they do not get enough “tummy” time. There are times when reality is even more bizarre than fiction. 

It is often said that the most important and best things in life are free. It is true. It doesn’t cost anything to give a brain-injured child unlimited opportunity on a warm, clean, safe floor in the prone position.