Jacob, a child with Down Syndrome, enjoying a family holiday and browsing in shops, like any other 5 year old child wouldJacob looking at books and watching TV at age 6 years - Down Syndrome doesn't stop normal development, but social attitudes do. - Jacob, a baby with Down Syndrome - Jacob at one year of age

Doman Delacato Method Accurately Reviewed (for once)

The Doman Delacato Method has had a number of reviews written about it, which are blatantly biased in condemning the method.

The Doman Delacato method still has much to offer, but not necessarily in the way one expects.

The Doman Delacato method has helped many people, adults and children, and even babies, lead a fuller and more meaningful life.

This is an honest review, that cuts to the quick of the matter.


The inventors of the Doman Delacato Method

The Doman Delacato method is a treatment therapy that was developed between 1955 and 1960 for “brain-injured” children, to use the term preferred by the developers.

This category includes any and all children who have brain-related problems, including children with Down’s Syndrome.

It was developed by Glenn Doman, a physical therapist and Carl Delacato, an educational psychologist.


Basis of The Doman Delacato Method

Brain Development in the Doman Delacato Method

The two creators worked off of the theories of Dr. Temple Fay who at that time was the head of the Department of Neurosurgery at Temple University Medical School and president of the Philadelphia Neurological Society.

Dr. Fay was a well known neurosurgeon who worked in the 1940s and 1950s. He developed several revolutionary neurosurgery techniques, but the theory that Doman and Delacato used was Dr. Fay’s theory that human brains develop in stages similar to the “tree of evolution” from a fish-like state near conception, up through a reptilian phase, then up to mammalian and finally fully to human.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase ” the lizard brain” applied to human fear or anger, this is the theory that slang term references.

Modern mainstream biologists now know that there is no such thing as a tree of evolution, and that the human brain does not evolve in this way.

This theory of brain development was outdated and discarded entirely by the 1980s.

The Doman Delacato method and the idea of neuroplasticity

The Doman Delacato method was also developed from the idea of neuroplasticity, which basically states that the brain has an inherent ability to grow both functionally and anatomically.

We know now that while the brain stops growing at all after a certain point of development, with the biggest spurt of brain growth between ages 2 and 4, another smaller burst around age 9, and then final development occuring between ages 18 to 23, healthy portions of the brain can pick up functions from damaged portions.

The brain cannot literally grow bigger, nor can it replace damaged parts.

Instead, what the brain does seem to do if damaged is, in effect, re-route as many functions as possible. For example, people who have had brain injury affecting touch have, with constant stimulation on the body area affected, re-routed their sensory abilities to a mirroring section of the brain.

Theories behind The Doman Delacato method in conclusion

Both theories were modern and respected in their day, but they have been found to be wrong, but there have been a lot of good results from those that have used the Doman Delacato method – as you will see below.


The Doman Delacato method activites and exercises – paving the way for real, bona-fide early intervention.

The Doman Delacato method uses techniques such as patterning, crawling, creeping, receptive stimulation, expressive activities, masking, brachiation and gravity/counter gravity exercises in the course of the program.

The first step, patterning, means to move the head, arms and legs in rhythmic, repetitive patterns.

Crawling means to help the child do forward motions with the abdomen in contact with the floor, while creeping means to do forward motion with the abdomen off of the floor. Yes, it seems kind of turned around in terminology, but that’s the specific definitions used for this method.

Expressive activities refers play activities like picking up objects.

Masking is a technique used where the child breathes into a mask and rebreathes the same air, thus increasing the level of carbon dioxide taken in each breath. The increase in carbon dioxide automatically increases blood flow to the brain as the body’s way of responding to risk of suffocation. Considering that each breath does not use up all of the oxygen in the air, it’s not harmful unless done to excess.

However, instead of using this method, I’d suggest getting the child to laugh instead. It does the exact same thing to the brain and is a lot safer and less potentially traumatizing.

Brachiation means to help the child hang from his arms off of a bar or crosspiece, feet not touching the ground and gravity/counter-gravity exercises refer to such activities as rolling, somersaults, and hanging upside down.

Many of these techniques can be found in physical or occupational therapy today, and are frequently used in early intervention now, but in the time the Doman Delacato method was started, this was not the norm.


The Doman Delacato method in Disrepute

This method has gotten quite a bit of criticism from various medical organizations and individual scientists.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Children with Disabilities issued its first warning against the program in 1968, only eight years after the initial publication of the method.

They re-issued the warning in 1999, and re-affirmed it in 2002 and 2005.

The substance of the warning basically states that the method is based on an outdated and oversimplified theory of brain development, that current information and research does not support the claims made about the method, and that the financial demands and burden of work placed on families can be so large as to seriously reduce financial resources and strain familial relationships.

This statement has been echoed several times over by various neurologists and pediatricians.

There have also been several dozen controlled scientific studies regarding the Doman Delacato method that failed to show any improvement in intellectual function.


What they are not really seeing about the Doman Delacato method

What studies have shown the Doman Delacato method to be capable of is increasing function in other areas.

In the clinically controlled studies that were originally performed back in the 1960s and 1970s, the groups getting the Doman Delacato method showed modest improvement in motor skills and/or visual skills over the control groups.

In 2006 a scientific research paper appeared in the International Journal of Neuroscience that described significant improvement in children with cortical visual impairment who were using the Doman Delacato method. These children were blind because they had suffered serious vision loss due to injury of visual areas of the brain. They had no damage to the eye itself nor to the nerve leading from the eye to the brain. Over seven years, 20 out of the 21 children studied showed significant improvement after 4 to 13 months on the program.


Is the Doman Delacato method now a fraud?

The real question comes down to what the program promises to do, what it actually does, and how it gets the promised results.

The clinical studies done on the method were done by using the Doman Delacato method on one group of small children and giving similar amounts of attention without structure or methodology to the other.

When done in this manner, does the method show a clinical increase in intellectual function? No.

However, children that get that much attention will almost always show increased intellectual function over those that don’t.

It’s possible that the reason the Doman Delacato method worked so well is that it gave worried parents a safe way to interact with their child.

If parents don’t know how to interact with a child with brain problems, they can fail to interact enough.

In addition, we know that children who get high amounts of healthy interaction are better adjusted, better developed and “smarter” than children who get less or no healthy interaction.

In fact, infants who get too little healthy human interaction can develop serious physical and mental problems.

So, at least part of the Doman Delacato method’s early success can be traced back to this tendency.

Despite all of the controversy, these two men are held in high regard for bringing the importance of early intervention in Down’s Syndrome to the attention of the medical community.

Can the Doman Delacato method increase visual/spatial and motor skills?

The answer on that one would seem to be yes.

If these skills can be improved in a child with Down’s Syndrome, the net result is that he or she will seem to be “smarter.”

Remember, there’s a significant difference between what scientists define as intellectual function and what the community and parents define as intellectual function.

If a child can see better, can reach and hold and move better, then quicker learning will naturally follow. That doesn’t mean that the child is experiencing increased intellectual function, it means that the information is getting in to be processed in the first place.

If increased visual and motor development happen younger, the child will absorb the information earlier and be functionally smarter.

However, in the case of children with Down’s Syndrome, the results from clinical trials are not entirely consistent.

While a certain statistical number of children will enjoy increased motor and visual skills through the method, because children with Down’s Syndrome are so individual, it’s impossible to predict which child will benefit and which will not.


The two Institutes offering the Doman Delacato method

Do you have to go through the two Institutes offering the Doman Delacato method? Well, no, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

First, both of them are located in the United States, which can be a serious problem for parents in other parts of the world.

Second, both Institutes of the Doman Delacato method currently insist that the child be removed from any anti-convulsant medication before starting treatment in their programs.

The literature published by the Institute for the Acheivement of Human Potential, which is the older of the two companies, states that seizures can and should be controlled by increased carbon dioxide intake for short periods of time, restriction on salt and liquid intake, good nutrition and nutritional supplements.

This theory about seizure treatment and prevention has never been proven anywhere, and removing a child from anti-epileptic medication when he or she needs it is not a brilliant idea.

Third, both institutes want quite a lot of money that medical insurance probably won’t cover, considering the general lack of support from mainstream medicine.

Fourth, the marketing scheme for the Institutes puts the blame on the parents if the child’s development isn’t everything hoped for.

Fifth, the full program recommended by the Institutes can exhaust parents, dominate family life, strain the child’s relationships with both parents and siblings and generally cost more in terms of energy and family life than it will ever give.

Last, books on the Doman Delacato method are available for far less online and in bookstores.

These books can give the foundation of the Doman Delacato method and allow each individual family to tailor the practices to their own lives.

Why should any family pay a lot of money for a lot of stress and pressure when they don’t have to?


The Doman Delacato method in Conclusion

In closing, the Doman Delacato method has proven useful to a great number of children.

However, its promises of increased intellectual function are unproven by any scientific standard whatsoever.

Use of the method increases interaction and stimulation for children, it’s been shown to increase visual and motor skills, and it may get children curious about and exploring their world sooner, which are all to the good.

Because of these results, the Doman Delacato method may be a good adjunct to physical and occupational therapy.

Ultimately, you and your family must decide what is best for you and your children.


Point of Query on the Doman Delacato Method

Hi Loni,

I read the article on the Doman Delacato method and it was well researched and well balanced, but being an insider – I did research on this method I think years before anyone else, the idea of the brain development you describe was never mentioned.  What their books did talk about, was good and bad brains – they even contained photos of said brains – and their argument was that bad brains don’t respond, but good ones do.  In essence the parent and program didn’t failure, it’s just that the brain wasn’t able to respond.
Did you come across this in your readings?
It’s an important point as the burden of guilt isn’t there when the program was initiated in Australia back in the late 70’s

Hi Donald,

This must be a newer development, as these two Doman Delacato based institutes now clearly place the blame on the parents if the method doesn’t work.



Doman Delacato References

Doman RJ, Spitz EB, Zucman E, Delacato CH, and Doman G: Children with severe brain injuries, Neurologic organization in terms of mobility. JAMA, 174:257, 1960

Scott F Gilbert (2006). “Ernst Haeckel and the Biogenetic Law”. Developmental Biology, 8th edition. Sinauer Associates.  “Eventually, the Biogenetic Law had become scientifically untenable.”

Cohen HJ, Birch HG, Taft LT: Some considerations for evaluating the Doman-Delacato “Patterning” method. Pediatrics, 45:302-14, 1970

Glenn Doman, 1974, What To Do About Your Brain-injured Child, Revised, Square One Publishers

Roselise H. Wilkinson, MD. “Detoxification from anticonvulsants: 25 years of experience with brain-injured children”. IAHP.  Retrieved on 8-18-2008

Ziring PR, Brazdziunas D, Cooley WC, et al (November 1999). “American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Children with Disabilities. The treatment of neurologically impaired children using patterning”. Pediatrics 104 (5 Pt 1): 1149–51. PMID 10545565.

Zigler, Edward; Hodapp, Robert M (August 1986). Understanding Mental Retardation. Cambridge University Press, 306.

Delacato CH: The Diagnosis and Treatment of Speech and Reading Problems. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 1963.

Doman G, Delacato CH: Train Your Baby to be a Genius. McCall’s Magazine, p. 65, March 1965

Neman R, Roos P, McCann BM, Menolascino FJ, Heal LW: Experimental Evaluation of Sensorimotor Patterning used with Mentally Retarded Children. Am J Mental Deficiency, 79:372-84, 1975

Ziegler E, Victoria S: On “An Experimental Evaluation of Sensorimotor Patterning”: A Critique. Am J Mental Deficiency, 79:483-92, 1975

Freeman RD: Controversy Over “Patterning” as a Treatment for Brain Damage in Children. JAMA, 202:83-86, 1967



Research and Main write by Loni Ice, editing by Donald Urquhart.

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