Why the Doman Method Includes Walking and Running

Developing mobility and respiration in children with special needs

Often a parent of a child with special needs will stop me and ask me the following, “My child is diagnosed with autism, and I will devote all of the money I have to improve my child’s speech. What treatment or activity does my child need?”  My response is always the same. Do you have a sidewalk nearby and running shoes? If you do, you are prepared to get started with the best program available.

Our Walking to Running Program has produced great results and progress for our children diagnosed with Autism, ADD, Trisomy 21, Developmental Delay and Learning Problems, among other special needs. 

The Doman Method began to incorporate walking and running in the late 1970’s. Running became a popular activity and form of exercise in the US. We had doctors and scientists who urged us to use running to improve the respiration of our children with special needs. I had the honor and pleasure of being present to start to utilize this program with children along with Glenn Doman, who founded the Doman Method, and my husband Douglas Doman, who founded Doman International.


We started this program in the summer of 1977 with 25 young adults with special needs. The staff and these young adults built up to a distance of 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) of running. We knew very little about the process of becoming runners, but we were young and figured, “How hard could this be?”

We had several young adults with the diagnosis of Trisomy 21, Autism, ADD, Developmental Delay and severe Learning Problems. They learned to love running quickly.  By the end of the summer, we re-evaluated these students to see if they had made progress. We realized that they made progress in all areas of function. They had improved vision, were able to focus better, were more organized, they found learning easier, and had improved speech and writing.  

Why did these young adults progress? Actually the Developmental Profile gave us the answer.  We realized that for children with special needs, not only does walking and running improve breathing, it develops the cortex just like crawling and creeping develops the midbrain. This was a major discovery.

Children with special needs often have poor or shallow breathing.  Glenn Doman found decades ago that these children often had a smaller lung capacity than average children. Poor breathing affects these children’s learning and development. Oxygen is the food of the brain and essential for brain 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 know that walking and running can help a child with special needs to breath deeper and develop more rhythmic breathing, which is why we utilize it so often in the development of children with special needs.

How to Teach a Child to Walk and Run longer distances.

While I cannot give you all the details in this blog post about how to teach a child to run, you can find an entire program and schedule in the book “Fit Baby, Smart Baby, Your Baby!” by Glenn Doman and Douglas Doman.  Douglas and I began running with children with special needs over 42 years ago.  Douglas’s chapter in the book on walking and running were written in the hopes to help parents of kids who needed it.

Here are Tips to Help Begin a Doman Method Walking to Running Program:

1. Look for an ideal place to do walking and running.  Douglas and I always did our program in our neighborhood, as it was very easy and safe and we could be most consistent doing it this way. On weekdays we would walk and run in our neighborhood. On the weekend, when we had more time, we drove to a nearby park to do it there for a change of scenery.

 2. Read “Fit Baby , Smart Baby, Your Baby” by Glenn Doman and Douglas Doman, the two leading experts in physical development for children with special needs. The schedule outlined in this book for some parents is excellent for getting started. Many children have accomplished an excellent walking to running program with their parents, just because parents read this book.

 3. Clothing is important.  Your child needs good quality running shoes.  If it is a bit chilly, do not dress your child in a bulky jackets. Bulky clothing impedes movement and should only be used in the coldest weather. The best clothing is clothing made for exercise that is warm, but thin.

 3. Your child will be motivated if parents lead by example. Your kid needs to do this program with either mother or father, or even better with both parents.  

4. Begin by having your child walking. Even if you need to start with 100 meters/yards, that is a good start! Get started, begin gradually and follow the schedule to get your walking at least 1.6 km (1 mile nonstop)  This should be done on a gradual schedule that fits your child. The first goal is to have your child walk 1.6 km (1 mile) without stopping.  

 5. Structure your child’s program so he always knows what to expect. The goals for the day should be posted in your home (on the fridge or wall) so that your child knows what to expect!

 6. This program must be enjoyable. This is a great time to tell your child a story, to sing songs, to kick a ball, etc. This will take your child’s mind off the activity and make it into a game.

As a mother of four children, walking and running was a large part of our daily routine as my children grew up. It was something my husband always tried to do several times per week with the kids.  Although my children are much older now, I am happy to say it is an activity we all try to do together, at least on family trips and weekends that we spend together. It is our way of catching up.

Enjoy this wonderful process with your children. Implementing these simple, but important tips, as well as reading “Fit Baby, Smart Baby, Your Baby!”, will help you and your child with this process.

Rosalind Doman