the basic unit of intelligence is the connection between a feeling or desire and a gesture or symbol
...we need to start to connect their snippet of gestures or symbols with their desires and feelings (as per Greenspan)

.......Tomatis Topics

U niquely Human:

Ayres describes 'Praxis is a uniquely human skill that enables us to interact effectively with the physical world.' in her 1985 discourse, 'Development Dyspraxia and Adult-onset Apraxia', Here she examines the condition of praxis and its relationship to human performance. In it she compares research on adult onset Apraxia and on Developmental Dyspraxia. She goes on to say, 'Both praxis and language are uniquely human and both interact with thought in the formation of symbols and concepts.'

She describes the uniqueness of praxis in the following ways. Sub-human species often excel over man in some aspects of motor function, but not in praxis. A cat lying around all day, without getting out of shape, can suddenly leap across the room, with great assurance and land on the dresser. This same cat is able to open a door left ajar by pulling at it with his paw, but has no idea, (and I emphasize the word idea), or plan for pushing the door open with his paw, although he could, in theory, use his nose. Pulling with the paw is hard wired, just like crawling and walking is for a child, while skipping is not. Skipping is learned and requires praxis.



H igher-level skills require praxis Praxis is required when we move beyond the hard-wired or innate programs. Praxis provides a critical link between the brain and behavior We need praxis in order to develop higher-level skills. It is after the infant moves beyond the hard wired functions that praxis is called upon. The innate functions such as sitting, standing, walking, cooing, occur without praxis. I used to say babbling but I'm not so sure now. Once our behavior becomes purposeful, once it starts to break from the sensory motor aspect of object use, to purposeful object use that is when we start to rely more on praxis. When we have adequate praxis for successful behavior, we can adapt effectively to our environment. It is through successful sensory motor interactions that we develop responses that lead to further purposeful interactions with our environment.

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was one of the first to recognize that the child's interactions with their environments was critical to their development Piaget stressed the importance of early sensori-motor stage in infants as leading to meaningful experiences and the formation of associations, which are the source of sensori-motor intelligence. The child 'accommodates' himself to the environment and 'assimilates' the environment to himself. 'Symbolic action is based on accommodation first to the environment and assimilation of prior sensori-motor intelligence.' In this way we start to develop schema and perceptual constructs that acts as a bridge between non-symbolic and symbolic thought. The combination of the 'give and take' of accommodation and assimilation produces adaptive responses that are effective, smooth, and satisfying.


P raxis: A Bridge: Praxis acts as a bridge between non-symbolic and symbolic thought. The baby shakes the rattle initially for pleasure. On time she knocks it against a drum shaped canister and gets a novel very interesting sound that she wants to repeat. She now starts to symbolize the long skinny rattle as a tool to hit the drum. Her prior sensory motor behavior is now becoming purposeful and adaptive yet also symbolic. The rattle a tool to hit with, the canister an object of sound production. These are now mental symbols. The rattle works better than a soft rubber ball but eventually not as well as a spoon.

Our adaptive behavior interacts with our thought and drives them or rather stretches them to start to connect our non-symbolic behavior to symbolic behavior. It is during this shift to purposeful adaptive responses where things really start to break down for the autistic child. They hit a glass ceiling at the 18-month stage when they are supposed to move from the sensori-motor period to a period of pre-operations, the shift to purposeful activity. Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist, has found in his research on children with Autism/PDD, that the breakdown in the children most often occurs when they cannot make the shift in order to progress to representational and symbolic communication.


Ideation is the ability to conceive or generate a plan of action about how we might go about interacting with the environment. Ideation is the first step of an interaction Ideation involves conceptualization, imaging, and even invention Ideation is the very first step in the development of the ability to organize behavior relative to the physical environment. (see Ayres p21-25) Ideation involves conceptualization. This is a cognitive or thinking process. Before one can engage purposefully or adaptively with a physical object, one must first have the concept of possible object-person interaction and some idea as to what might take place during that interaction. Ideation is a cognitive process believed to be largely dependent upon sensory integration and resultant knowledge of available body actions. This leads to further intellectual processes, including knowledge of objects but this is developed out of the use of the body in purposeful activity with objects. Ideation praxis is an essential skill underlying all use of objects to obtain a goal.


G reenspan in his book 'Growth of the Mind' about how emotional affect drives cognitive development. He talks about how the role of emotions is left out of most models of intellectual development. 'Thinking remains concrete, that doesn't involve lived emotional experience' (see Greenspan Growth of the Mind p5-16) He says that affect is the key to generating an idea. He uses the example of 'A lot' is more than you expect 'A little' is less than you want. And that this emotional association can provide the foundation for later numerical calculations.

He says, 'It isn't biology alone that gives rise to autistic symptoms. Rather, their physiology makes it difficult for them to engage in the interactive emotional experiences that are required for mental growth.' He talks about a system of duel coding in the nervous system - that the physical properties are connected with the emotional qualities in the formation of perceptual schema. It is easy to see how a regulatory disorder or a very shut down nervous system can interfere with this 'duel coding' Greenspan has found a correlation between childrens' ability to reg ulate their emotional function at 8 months and their I. Q. at age 4. Greenspan postulates, 'that the basic unit of intelligence is the connection between a feeling or desire and an action or symbol.

'Unti l the child can make this connection, their behavior and communication remains disturbed ..... the difficulty in making such connections constitutes a basic element of the disorder.' What we need to do for this child is start to connect the snippet of gestures or language with their desires to start to make this connection.

Ayres when talking about Piaget says the combination of the 'give and take' of accommodation and assimilation produces adaptive responses that are effective, smooth, and satisfying. Ayres talks about the sense of pleasure ' when the child experiences challenges to which he can respond effectively.' Adaptive responses give a sense of mastery and that sense may act as a bridge between affect and perception or action or symbol.

Adaptive responses

Adaptive responses provide the foundation for Representational and Symbolic Thinking. An adaptive response is a purposeful, goal-directed response to the environment. Definition: An appropriate action in which the individual responds successfully to some environmental demand. (see Ayres S.I. and the Child p6-7) In an adaptive response, we master a challenge and learn something new. At the same time the formation of an adaptive response helps the brain to develop and organize Praxis is built through adaptive responses. This provides a sense of mastery. This sense of mastery encourages to child to seek out and elaborate on the behavior. We begin to have increasingly more complex plans of actions. We have evolving body schema and at the same time increasing mental symbolic representation. As one map becomes more detailed so does the other. For the Autistic child we don't see the same development unfold. The idea (or ideation) of how the body can use objects in the physical environment doesn't interface with their symbolic interpretation of the object. They don't experience the success of an adaptive experience Characteristically their symbolic play is very limited. For example they can line up cars in exact size color order, yet they can't play with the cars by running down the track and crashing into each other. They might be taught to feed a bottle to a baby doll but they don't pretend play that a peg is a bottle and feed it to their teddy bear.


C ognitive Evolution Link between Praxis and Language Ayres described the relationship of Praxis to Language as follows:

Praxis is to the physical world what speech is to the social world. Both are uniquely human; Both enable interactions and transactions. Both are learned. Both praxis and language require integration of sensory input, and Both require planning that enables motor expression Some aspects of speech and language comprehension may be closely related--even dependent-- upon the development of praxis. Rather than say language is dependent on Praxis, Ayres felt it was more appropriate to say that 'Language is linked to praxis'. She felt that it is more logical to propose some neural process that is common to both praxis and language. (see Ayres p50-52) She noted that in the research measures done on learning disabled children, praxis and language often correlated. Ayres contemplated a lot on this relationship between praxis and language feeling that it was ideation that formed the link between the two. Relationship between praxis and symbols and language; The Role of Ideation in praxis.

A common test for Apraxia in adults is to ask them to pretend that they are brushing their teeth. The adult will think about this for a moment, and then try to act out what he has thought about. He must symbolize the brushing of his teeth first in words, then in a body action plan. Therefore the question arises 'Is it the symbolic aspect of a task that is common to both speech and praxis?' Ayres felt that there was a more fundamental piece that preceded this. That it was more the ability to conceptualize or ideate, (abilities that she considered dependent on sensory processing and integration), that were involved. We must have the thought of how to interact with an object prior to doing it. She reasoned like Piaget that sensory motor intelligence and its foundation for perceptual schema must be established before we are able to internally represent objects and events. We must internally represent before we can use external symbols. All this must be accomplished before play ability, language and stable emotional relations can develop. The ability to play with toys symbolically is certainly largely absent or severely limited in autistic and PDD children. I believe that this represents their difficulty with the ability to ideate. They have no internal representation and therefore cannot use external symbols. The failure to master this ability is one of the major roadblocks in development for these children. The emergence of symbolic play is a major breakthrough when working with autistic/PDD children.

Ideation as the Link of Praxis with Language

Ayres wrote that 'It is not difficult to understand the importance of praxis to the skilled use of an object but it is more difficult to understand the role of praxis as a foundation or contributor to language and other cognitive development' (see Ayres p6-7, 22-23) Ayres felt that it was ideation or concept formation that may link language and praxis. It is when we start to link our perceptual schema with symbols that the connection occurs. 'This ability (ideation), which is common to both language and praxis, is essential to cognitive learning'. She says that it is the children with dysphasia and dyspraxia who are the poorest in ideation Certainly the Autistic child has both. Ayres noted that severe practice ideation deficits are seen in most autistic children, and that autistic children also generally have language problems.