Upcoming Events

Level 2, June in PA


Levels 1-2 Grenada (Caribbean) in August

HANDLE Level 3 (Screener Courses)

Summer of 2019

Grenada and Phoenixville, PA

HANDLE Level 4 (Practitioner Course)

Grenada, January-February 2020







Have you noticed any changes?

This is one question I ask every client or family each time we meet. The answers vary – from “Math seems easier” to “M. is calmer” to “S. is able to enjoy being outdoors” or “O. seems more present and engaged.” Answering this question a few days ago, a young client claimed: “I haven’t changed!” Well, of course, I had to explain to her, there’s no need for you to change. You are perfect being just who you are. What I’m trying to find out is whether things have become easier for you.

This is not a matter of semantics at all. The client needs to feel confident that the goal of our work is not to transform him/her into another person. It really isn’t.

Think what can happen when “things”, whatever they are, become easier:

When you have a better sense of where you are in space, you can move with more confidence, engage in team sports more easily, sleep better, have fewer accidents.

When you can sort your fingers from one another, you are more likely to be successful in writing, drawing, playing music.

When your eyes work better, you’re likely to have an easier time with reading, with being active outside, with maintaining eye contact.

When you don’t need to spend so much energy protecting a sensitive tactile system, you’re likely to be able to dress differently, to maintain your grooming better, to try different foods.

When your vestibular system supports you better, your level of anxiety is likely to be reduced, your mobility enhanced.

Any of these systems, with better organization, can allow you to broaden your scope of interests.

Isn’t this what we are all looking for?

Well, maybe not all of us.

"My," the girl said. "What big ears you have!"

"The better to hear you with, my child."

"Grandma, what big eyes you have!"

"The better to see you with, my dear."



At 3:20 on Sunday morning I jumped out of bed, waking up from a deep sleep to the reality of an earthquake. I was far enough from where the earthquake actually caused damage, but during the first moments of uncertainty my mind was already racing: Safety/phone/keys/shoes/gas?/emergency backpack/I’ll miss my meeting across the bridge today/Get information/Send text/Escape or stay?

It took me a while to wind down. But I did. Part of winding down had to do, of course, with the fact that I was unharmed and that people close to me were also safe. But another part of it had to do with my state of mind: the conviction that I had some control over the situation. I had enough understanding of what was going on, and I could make choices regarding what I was going to do.  

Wait long enough and life is going to come up with earthquakes of some sort, big and small. Just like you can’t stop an earthquake from happening, many other events in life cannot be prevented or changed. But we can work on understanding and on developing choices. This is true for ourselves and for those who are under our care. It can be hard to explain things to people, young or not, whose communication skills are lacking, but it’s worth a try. They may understand more than we expect, and they may appreciate being addressed. And offering choices, even small ones, can often help a person feel less helpless, even if those choices cannot make the earthquake go away and cannot even lessen it. I hope you will share your experiences as comments below.


Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence


Does the softness or hardness of the seat you sit on make you a softer negotiator or a harder one? Does touching something soft or something rough, something warm or something cold, make a difference in your judgment of a person shortly after that? Does turning on a lightbulb increase the chances that you'll get an "Aha!" moment? Research suggests that the answer to all of these is yes. Research even suggests that there’s a difference in whether or not you are likely to cheat depending on whether or not you’ve just showered. You have any guesses here? Hmmm, my guess was wrong.

Check out Dr. Thalma Lobel’s book “Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence”, or watch her give a talk to an audience at Google, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=R33dwl9vjQs. This talk is a little under 50 minutes.

Our perceptions, decisions and judgments are very much influenced by our physical sensations. Our ability to come up with creative answers to problems is influenced by our immediate environment (try sitting inside a large box or outside of one). And much of all this is influenced by the experiences we’d had as children.

Future research will explore more in depth which of these influences are culture-dependent and which are not, as well as differences between age groups and between environments (e.g. will holding a hot cup of coffee on a hot day or on a cold day have the same impact?). Personally, I’m very interested in future research into individual differences. Specifically, one of the experiments described by Dr. Lobel, is that of participants who spent a while working on jigsaw puzzles, which either had very smooth or very rough textures. After completing the puzzles, the participants were asked whether they perceived a particular ambiguous dialogue as friendly or unfriendly, cooperative or competitive, a discussion or an argument. There was indeed a correlation – those who had experienced the rough sensations in their hands earlier were more likely to perceive the conversation as unfriendly, competitive and argumentative. And that made me think. What some of us may feel smooth and perhaps pleasant to the touch can feel scratchy and offensive to others who are more tactile sensitive. Not only do sensitive people have to deal with a more physically challenging environment, but these sensations influence the interpretation of the personal interactions around them which may not be related at all to the physical stressors.



Where will they live when they can't live at home any more?

If you need to choose a community for your developmentally disabled adult child, or if you expect that this is something you’ll be doing in the future – what would you be looking for? Would you join other parents in creating the place you envision? Last month I visited Kishorit, a kibbutz in Israel for developmentally disabled adults, and it made me think.

I had been to a couple of other rural communities for developmentally disabled adults, and found myself creating a little list in my mind: a place like that needs to be pleasant. The residents need to be respected. I want to look around and see people seem happy, active, satisfied. But what does that take? Obviously, different individuals have different needs and not every community suits every individual. However, one issue that I find very interesting is the question of structured day plans versus catering to individual differences. 

Let me tell you about Kishorit. First of all, a kibbutz is a communal village, in which the resources and the work are shared by the community members. In this particular one, any funds that are raised, any money generated from their various enterprises, is shared by all members of the community. The members of this kibbutz, with very few exceptions, are developmentally disabled.

A foundational principle of Kishorit is to provide choices:

- A resident may choose to live alone, with a roommate or with a partner.

- A resident may choose to live in the village or in the nearby town (in which case prepared food will be delivered, or if they care to cook, food products will be delivered).

- A resident can choose to work with the goats, the chicken, the horses, at the dog kennel, the organic garden, the grape vines, the toy factory. A few work or volunteer at other locations, but the village is home.

- A resident can choose to take advantage of holistic therapies or conventional medicine, or both.

- A resident can choose to dine at the general dining hall, or in the nearby one where meals tailor-made to his or her diet are being served. And like all of us, the dieting resident can choose to cheat on their diet and eat something else altogether

- Drivers regularly go into town, and residents can choose to go and spend a few hours there.

- Leisure activities are varied, again - with individual choices. 

In this community the support team, for the most part, doesn’t live in the village. There’s always someone to turn to, but the social workers, and staff who guide those working on the farm and in the factory and in the communal kitchen etc. leave at the end of the work day. In other places that I’ve seen this is not the case.

Why did I say that all this made me think? Because other residential communities have other principles which may or may not sit well with you:

-         In some places the day is very structured, and fewer choices for work or leisure activities are available

-         In some places there is no choice between living alone or living with another

-         In some places having a partner, which also may mean having sex, is not allowed.

Thinking about this brings up another question, which is – can something similar be done in an urban setting? Is it possible to have a community that offers a place to live, support when needed, a dining hall serving regular, healthy meals, meaningful employment? Please do share your thoughts.


What does driving have to do with neurodevelopment?

Oh, quite a bit. If you've ever tried to teach or guide a new driver, especially one who struggled with learning, you may have noticed some of the following challenges. Or perhaps you've experienced them yourself. These challenges may or may not be eased much if the relevant neurodevelopmental systems are not supported.  

1. A difficulty telling right from left. Following directions can be really hard when you can't tell which one's which. I'll call this a challenge with laterality. This becomes way trickier when you're trying to drive in reverse, say, for parallel parking. 

2. A difficulty maintaining a rather constant distance from the other cars on the freeway. This may fall under proprioceptive awareness. Here's where I'd also list the stepping on the correct foot pedal (gas/brakes). And sorting out whether or not the vehicle you're driving can fit in the space you're hoping to occupy with it. 

3. A difficulty alternating between focusing on the road and peeking at the speedometer. We'll put this under eye teaming. A difficulty with eye teaming can make you feel rather insecure regarding where a particular object (say, someone's car) is actually placed. And the whole environment may seem flat rather than in 3D. Speaking of visual function - does the movement of the scenery to your sides make you dizzy? Are you overwhelmed by headlights you're facing, or by quick changes of lights and shadow? Do you have enough night vision to see your way?

4. A difficulty turning the head without following it with the hands. Let's call this one differentiation of movement. This is also relevant when you're startled: can you keep it all together, or do you respond with your whole body (not good. But yes, once in a while you'll be startled).

5. A difficulty coordinating what the right side of the body is doing with what the left side is doing (shifting gears would be one example; stepping on the pedal with the correct foot is another). This may fall under interhemispheric integration.

These are of course just a few of the possible problems. And they can all be eased, at any age, by supporting the underlying challenged systems.

If you're helping a new driver and getting the impression that he or she has no idea what the other drivers are up to, you can help by "thinking aloud" as you model driving. "That driver doesn't seem to be slowing down", "He's been signaling to the left for several minutes; he may have just forgotten to stop signaling", "I need to turn right in a couple of blocks, so I'll start working on moving to the right lane carefully." 

Would you add your own experience as a comment?