Shao Ern Huang is a current student in the MBS Foundation training. Over the course of his studies with MBS in Singapore; Thailand; and Bad Toelz, Germany, Shao Ern has found ways to apply Mia and Leora’s methods to his own work with special needs children, both through clever innovation and as an extension of his personal values and aims. Here, he shares with the MBS Blog some of his experiences and the connections he’s made along the way.
Sitting before the perfumed steam of hot cocoa at one of Bad Toelz’s lovelier cafes, Shao Ern has hardly touched his own cup. There’s just too much to tell. We’re on lunch break from the June 2013 MBS Post-Graduate Training course, and Shao Ern is marvelling at the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the morning’s group class.
“It’s the finesse of doing such a simple movement. While doing the movement, I thought, ‘Wow, there are so many pieces!’” Holding out his palm, Shao Ern recalls, “You know, Moshe writes in one of his books that if you can differentiate out all of the components of walking, there’s more to it than the lines on your palm. Now I can see, he has a point!”
Based in Singapore, Shao Ern works with special needs children, which means that he works with a broad range of individuals, including children with cerebral palsy, genetic disorders, and dyslexia. As he points out, alluding both to his own profession and to MBS, “with this work, you don’t know what will happen when you walk in the door.”
Shao Ern recalls a recent situation of arriving to a session at a child’s home before the child had arrived. A meltdown immediately ensued because of the break from routine: “You’re not supposed to be in the house. I’m supposed to be in the house, and you’re supposed to come from outside the house!” As he explains, “You know how a loss of perspective can throw things off – you just have to be on the spot to be flexible and see what can be done. Any MBS group lesson (or ‘ATM’) can be approached from different angles, and this work really lets me adopt an approach from any direction. It’s like a full circle, that you can come to the center from any direction.”
While the demand for flexibility and rapid, on-your-feet thinking would pose a challenge to many, Shao Ern stresses how this freshness actually facilitates the ideal conditions for growth and learning. “It does get harder after you’ve worked with a child for months or even years, as you start to see a pattern, and then you have to ‘clean your lenses’ to see what’s happening now, in this session. Then you’ll get some clarity. That part really resonates for me with the Buddhist teachings of looking at everything for the first time.”
Providing Safety & Respect
Shao Ern’s concern with attending to each individual, each session, and even each moment of the session, echoes his personal approach to his work. As he puts it, “My belief system is to provide safety and respect for anyone who comes to me. I always feel the respect is more important than a framework that you’re coming with your diagnosis and I’m supposed to fix something.”
In MBS, Shao Ern found a modality that complemented and even extended his approach to care. Considering how his training with MBS has affected his work, Shao Ern notes:
“What I really like is that when a child comes to me, I do not see the problem that the child brings, but the potential that the child brings. Also, I’m getting the vocabulary to tell parents what I see, and so the process can transfer to the parents, as well. They’ll tell me that after they left a session, this new development happened that hadn’t ever happened before. It’s like you’re working with a system, with the child and with the family. That has always been my dream. You can just work with a child, but if you don’t work with the family, too, the child always goes back to older patterns.”
Shao Ern’s orientation, with an emphasis on potential over problem-fixing, is starting to bleed over to the parents of the children he works with. Shortly before he departed for the June seminars, a parent casually mentioned, “You know, I finally get what you’re saying about ‘less is more’!” Shao Ern’s face cracks into a tremendous smile.
It can be a long process to get the parent on the same page. “Sometimes, when a child can’t do something, the parent will say, ‘Do more, do more!’ and I’ll say, “No, that’s enough, let’s change to something else.” The parents really insist, ‘Let’s get him to bring the elbow over here.’ They are so used to linear, cause-and-effect kind of ideas.” Plus, he notes, the approach of MBS often relieves a sense of guilt or responsibility that parents all too often feel over their children’s progress. “A lot of the time they (the parents) are thinking, ‘I’m not doing what I need to do.’ I’ll remind them to trust the children, in their own bodies, to figure things out.”
As Shao Ern explains, working with children inevitably involves the parents making a shift to their ideas about learning. Sometimes, later on in a session, he’ll have the child return to that movement the parent was so eager to see. When the child can make the movement effortlessly, after a playful, exploratory session, Shao Ern finds that both the children and the parents feel a deeper sense of achievement and self-reliance. He notes, “it returns the power back to the child, and lets the parents see that the child has an ability to self-regulate.”
The process can be healing or empowering to the parents, as well. Comparing the MBS approach with other modalities he’s studied, Shao Ern notes that he can describe progress more clearly to parents. It’s not symptomatic or dependent on complex jargon, but based on simple and direct observations. “Those simple words actually make this intelligible to the parents. For example, it’s really helpful for parents to see that their children can really learn from differences between the left and the right sides. I’ll say, ‘See? This is a really good, complete brain that we can tap into!’ I’m more than willing to tell parents what I’m doing. And now I have the vocabulary to do that.”
As Shao Ern attests, his training with MBS is a continuous unfolding; as he deepens his own self-awareness and expands his options, in turn he improves his ability to work with the children and their parents. He sums things up in terms of this progression: “In a nutshell, I would say that the potential I have found in all the ATMs I have received, and in how I see myself, starts to open up the potential that I see in the kids I work with. That allows the mums to see the potential in their own children. Then the parents can tap into their own potential.”
Shao Ern first chanced upon Moshe’s books around ten years ago. “But it didn’t make any sense then!” he recalls, laughing. “I had been reading his books... then I met Leora in Singapore for an introductory workshop. She made the concepts so easy that I could really understand what Moshe was trying to say. It was just a three day workshop, but I went back to work and I realized I was already looking at things differently – looking at myself differently – and that got me hooked. Then the work just kept evolving.”
On discovering MBS, Shao Ern found that the principles of the method resonated with an orientation that he had already come to. To explain his work, Shao Ern rattles off a laundry list of the conditions and presenting issues that he regularly encounters. And with a sigh, he points out, “They always come to me with a label. Parents will come to you and say, ‘My child has this problem, my child has that problem.’ I want to look at what is behind those problems, and what potential is behind those problems. So, if the child can’t concentrate, I ask, ‘Is that all the time?’ Then the parent says, ‘No,’ so I say, ‘Okay, your child can concentrate. But when? What can he concentrate on?’” Focusing on and expanding a child’s potential also drives home Shao Ern’s basic philosophy of respecting the child and the whole system.
Coming from a background in counseling and psychology, Shao Ern had struggled with a sense that two crucial elements were missing from his work. “One part that was missing was the body, and another limitation was that it was very one-dimensional : you are there to fix something.” Training first with Leora and later with Mia and all the MBS Assistant Trainers, Shao Ern found a way to add those pieces back into his work. Now he sees children make rapid progress in their movement, development, and well-being – often far better and more easily than before – but his intention is less to solve a problem, and more to be curious and to join the children in their own exploration.
In one recent session, Shao Ern worked with a boy who routinely toe walked, (a tendency in which a child walks exclusively on tip-toe.) To help the child reconnect with the sensitivity of the entire surface of his feet, Shao Ern had him imagine each foot dipped in colored paint. The toes were one color, the balls and the heels another. Using what he’d learned in a recent MBS seminar, Shao Ern guided the child to notice different parts of his feet in contact with the floor – all with a spirit of play. The child dropped his compulsive toe walking almost immediately.
While many of Shao Ern’s clients would like to do more, he’s also worked recently with “a ‘normal’ child, but an overachiever,” who needed to learn to do less. “She does everything,” Shao Ern explains, “ballet, music, drama, tae kwon do, and she’s in pain. She’s nine, but she’s in a lot of pain.” In working with the young woman, Shao Ern asked her to modulate how much she pushed with the palms of her hands against his palms, matching the pressure he gave. She pushed with 100 percent of her force all the way through the activity. Shao Ern asked her whether she needed to push so hard.
“No,” she replied.
“Then why do you do it?”
“That’s what I’m taught: to do my best, to give 100 percent,” the girl explained matter-of-factly.
Shao Ern suggested, “Why not do your very best to use just as much strength as you need in order to do something?” They started up again, and she was able to give 90 or 70 or 20 percent the amount of pressure, mirroring his lead quite dexterously.
A similar issue surfaced when Shao Ern asked her to stand. As he describes, “She stood up, holding her head up high like she was performing ballet, and I said, ‘Lindsay, just stand.’ ‘I am standing,’ she said. So I said to her, “I would like the Lindsay who came in the door to stand, and not the ballet-Lindsay to stand.” There was a moment of recognition and the girl completely relaxed. Now, she continues to go to ballet classes, but she’s expanded her repertoire to include both ‘ballet Lindsay’ and just ‘Lindsay.’ Shao Ern explains, “When I see her the day she has ballet, I remind her, ‘Go to ballet and do your best, but then when you’re finished, remember you’re Lindsay again.’
While the young ballet dancer found she could loosen up her compulsion to achieve, other children working with Shao Ern end up making great achievements, quite unexpectedly, through the process of play. Shao Ern describes how another modality he uses, ‘Original Play’, echoes elements of a one-on-one MBS session (or ‘FI’). In an ‘Original Play’ session, he explains, “we provide safety. For example, if a child doesn’t know how to fall, you can show them how to fall.” As in MBS movements, the floor is a source of help and feedback, instead of source of fear. “Also, like in an ‘FI’, you join them in their pattern.” Shao Ern recalls a child he worked with recently who had amblyopia (or ‘lazy eye’). “When you play, things happen so quickly. We only played for half an hour, and the eye just corrected itself. I had no particular intention to do that, and it just happened!”
Whether he’s drawing on techniques of ‘Original Play’ or of MBS, Shao Ern’s extensive training and his abilities most of all present themselves through his childlike approach, continuing curiosity, and enthusiasm for the work. “I really like that I can see my job as just to play, just to observe, and really they (his clients) can do their own thing. Coming to MBS, it’s almost life-changing in terms of how it’s changed my own self and how I see my work, and then hopefully that extends to whomever I’m working with. The way Mia trains us, I get a better sense of how a child is using his or her body. I always go back to asking what it’s really like to be as the child is. And then I wonder, now what might feel better?”