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The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential

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The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential
FounderGlenn Doman
TypeNon-profit Organization
PurposeTreatment of "brain injured" children
HeadquartersPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Janet Doman

The Institutes for The Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP), founded in 1955 by Glenn Doman and Carl Delacato, provide literature on and teaches a controversial patterning therapy, known as motor learning, which the Institutes promote as improving the "neurologic organization" of "brain injured" and mentally impaired children through a variety of programs, including diet and exercise.[1][2] The Institutes also provides extensive early-learning programs for "well" children, including programs focused on reading, mathematics, language, and physical fitness. It is headquartered in Philadelphia, with offices and programs offered in several other countries.[2]

Pattern therapy for patients with neuromuscular disorders was first developed by neurosurgeon Temple Fay in the 1940s.[3][4] Patterning has been widely criticized and multiple studies have found the therapy ineffective.[5][6][7][8]


The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP, also known as "The Institutes") was founded in 1955.[9] It practices pattern therapy, which was developed by Doman and educational psychologist Carl Delacato.[10] Pattern therapy drew upon the ideas and work of ideas of neurophysiologist Temple Fay, former head of the Department of Neurosurgery at Temple University School of Medicine and president of the Philadelphia Neurological Society.[10][11]

In 1960, Doman and Delacato published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) detailing pattern therapy.[12] The methodology of their study was later criticized.


The philosophy of the Institutes consists of several interrelated beliefs: that every child has genius potential, stimulation is the key to unlocking a child's potential, teaching should commence at birth, the younger the child, the easier the learning process, children naturally love to learn, parents are their child's best teacher, teaching and learning should be joyous and teaching and learning should never involve testing.[13] This philosophy follows very closely to the Japanese Suzuki method for violin, which is also taught at the institute in addition to the Japanese language itself. The Institutes consider brain damage, intellectual impairment, "mental deficiency", cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, athetosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, "developmental delay", and Down syndrome as conditions encompassing "brain injury", the term favored by IAHP.[14]

Much of the work at The Institutes follows from Dr. Temple Fay who believed in recapitulation theory, which posits that the infant brain evolves through chronological stages of development similar to first a fish, a reptile, a mammal and finally a human. This theory can be encapsulated as "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". Recapitulation theory has been largely discredited in biology.[15][16]

According to a 2007 WPVI-TV report, IAHP uses the word "hurt" to describe the children they see "with all kinds of brain injuries and conditions, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, epilepsy, Down's syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism".[17] Glenn Doman described his own personal philosophy for treating patients as stemming from his WWII veteran officer motto: "Leave no injured behind."[14]


Programs for brain-injured children[edit]

IAHP's program begins with a five-day seminar for the parents of "brain injured" children, because the program is carried out by parents at their homes.[17] Following the seminar, IAHP conducts an initial evaluation of the child.[17]

The program described in the 1960 JAMA paper (Doman, et al.) for "brain-injured" children included:

  • Patterning – manipulation of limbs and head in a rhythmic fashion
  • Crawling – forward bodily movement with the abdomen in contact with the floor
  • Creeping – forward bodily movement with the abdomen raised from the floor
  • Receptive stimulation – visual, tactile and auditory stimulation
  • Expressive activities – e.g. picking up objects
  • Masking – breathing into a rebreathing mask to increase the amount of carbon dioxide inhaled, which is purported to increase cerebral blood flow
  • Brachiation – swinging from a bar or vertical ladder
  • Gravity/Antigravity activities – rolling, somersaulting and hanging upside down.[18]

The IAHP holds that brain injury at a given level of neurological development prevents or slows further progress.[14][9][19]

Other therapies utilized by IAHP include eye exercises for children who have an eye that converges more than the other when looking at an object in the distance and those who have one eye that diverges more than the other when an object is moved slowly toward the bridge of the nose. IAHP also recommends stimulating the eyes of children with amblyopia by flashing a light on and off. For children with poor hearing, IAHP recommends auditory stimulation with loud noises, which may be pre-recorded. Brain-injured children may also be taught to identify by touch alone various objects placed in a bag.[1]

IAHP recommends dietary restrictions, including reduced fluid intake for brain-injured children in an attempt to prevent "the possible overaccumulation of cerebrospinal fluid". Alongside fluid restriction, IAHP recommends a diet low in salt, sweets, and other "thirst provoking" foods.[1]

Scientific evaluation and criticism[edit]

The Institutes model of childhood development has been criticized in the scientific community.[20]

American Academy of Pediatrics position statement[edit]

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, patterning treatment is based on an oversimplified theory of brain development and its effectiveness is not supported by evidence-based medicine, making its use unwarranted.[21] The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Children With Disabilities issued warnings regarding patterning, one of the IAHP's therapies for brain injured children, as early as 1968[22] and repeated in 1982.[23] Their latest cautionary policy statement was in 1999, which was reaffirmed in 2010[24] states:

This treatment is based on an outmoded and oversimplified theory of brain development. Current information does not support the claims of proponents that this treatment is efficacious, and its use continues to be unwarranted.... [T]he demands and expectations placed on families are so great that in some cases their financial resources may be depleted substantially and parental and sibling relationships could be stressed.[21]


In addition to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a number of other organizations have issued cautionary statements about claims for efficacy of this therapy.[21] These include the executive committee of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy,[25] the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Texas,[26] the Canadian Association for Retarded Children,[27] the executive board of the American Academy of Neurology,[28] and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.[29] Hornby et al. call R.A. Cummins 1988 book The Neurologically Impaired-child: Doman-Delacato Techniques Reappraised (Croom Helm, ISBN 9780709948599), "The most comprehensive analysis of the rationale and effectiveness of the Doman-Delacato programme to date" and state Cummins uses neuroanatomy and neurophysiology to demonstrate that there is no sound scientific basis for the techniques used by the IAHP and concludes any benefit is likely due to increased activity and attention. Hornby et al. conclude, "It is now clear that the only results supporting the effectiveness of the programme come from a handful of early, poorly controlled studies."[5] Kavale and Mostert and others also identified serious problems with the early research on the IAHP program.[6][10] An analysis of higher quality studies found that students not receiving the treatment had better outcomes than those who were treated by the IAHP.[6] A 2013 study found the claims of superior results of treatment by the IAHP were not substantiated.[8]

A 2006 retrospective study of 21 children by the IAHP and others of children with cortical visual impairment found significant improvement after use of the program the study had no control group.[30]

Doctors Martha Farrell Erickson and Karen Marie Kurz-Riemer wrote that IAHP "capitalized on the desires of members of the 'baby boom' generation to maximize their children's intellectual potential" and "encouraged parents to push their infants to develop maximum brain power". But most contemporary child development experts "described many aspects of the program as useless and perhaps even harmful".[31] Kathleen Quill concluded that "professionals" have nothing to learn from pattern therapy.[32] Pavone and Ruggieri have written that pattern therapy does not have an important role in treatment.[33] Neurologist Steven Novella has characterized pattern therapy as being based on a discarded theory and a "false cure".[34] He also wrote that IAHP's unsubstantiated claims can cause both financial and emotional damage.[34] While detailing criticism of pattern therapy, Robards also wrote that the therapy caused pediatricians and therapists to recognize that early intervention programs are necessary.[7]

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations have criticized the IAHP's claims of effectiveness, theoretical basis and the demands placed on parents by IAHP programs.[21][22] Early studies originating from IAHP appeared to show some value of their program but were later criticized as significantly flawed.[6][9] Kenneth Kavale and Mark Mostert have written that later studies they believe to have better design and more objectivity have shown pattern therapy "to be practically without merit".[6]

In their book Controversial Issues in Special Education, Garry Hornby, Jean Howard and Mary Atkinson state the program also includes "gagging" in which the child breathes into a plastic bag until gasping for breath. This is based on the belief that it will cause maximum use of the lungs and thus maximize oxygen circulation to the brain.[5] The book concludes that pattern therapy is ineffective and potentially damaging to the functioning of families.[5]

Attitude to scientific evaluation[edit]

In the 1960s, IAHP published literature that appeared to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program. However, they subsequently instructed parents of children in their program not to take part in any independent studies designed to evaluate the program's effectiveness.[5] The IAHP withdrew its agreement to participate in a "carefully designed study supported by federal and private agencies" when the study was in its final planning stages.[10] According to Herman Spitz, "The IAHP no longer appears to be interested in a scientific evaluation of their techniques; they have grown large, wealthy, and independent, and their staff is satisfied to provide case histories and propaganda tracts in support of their claims."[10] Terrence M. Hines then stated that they "have shown very little interest in providing empirical support for their methods".[9]


  1. ^ a b c Evan W. Thomas. Brian-Injured Children. Charles C. Thomas. ASIN B000L3PVNC.
  2. ^ a b "About Us". iahp.org. The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential.
  3. ^ "Temple Fay, MD". societyns.org. The Society of Neurological Surgeons.
  4. ^ "Fay Reflex Therapy". cirrie.buffalo.edu. Cirriel.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hornby, Garry; Howard, Jean; Atkinson, Mary (2013). Controversial Issues in Special Education. Routledge. pp. 5–7. ISBN 9781134094387.
  6. ^ a b c d e Kavale, Kenneth A.; Mostert, Mark P. (2004). The Positive Side of Special Education: Minimizing Its Fads, Fancies, and Follies. Rowman & Littlefield Education. pp. 146–57. ISBN 9781578860975.
  7. ^ a b Robards, Martin F. (1994). Running a Team for Disabled Children and Their Families. Cambridge University Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0901260994.
  8. ^ a b von Tetzchner, S.; Verdel, M; Barstad, B.G.; Gravås, E.M.; et al. (2013). "The effect of interventions based on the programs of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential and Family Hope Center". Developmental Neurorehabilitation. 16 (4): 217–29. doi:10.3109/17518423.2012.739211. PMID 23834196. S2CID 29810390.
  9. ^ a b c d Hines, T.M. (2001). "The Doman-Delcato patterning treatment for brain damage". Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 5 (2): 80–9.
  10. ^ a b c d e Spitz, Herman H. (2013) [1986]. The Raising of Intelligence: A Selected History of Attempts To Raise Retarded Intelligence. Routledge. pp. 183–7. ISBN 9781136562075.
  11. ^ "Temple Fay, MD". The Society of Neurological Surgeons.
  12. ^ Doman, R.J.; Spitz, E.B.; Zucman, E.; Delacato, C.H.; et al. (1960). "Children with severe brain injuries. Neurological organization in terms of mobility". JAMA. 174 (3): 257–62. doi:10.1001/jama.1960.03030030037007. PMID 13817361.
  13. ^ "The Early Learning Experts: Glenn Doman". brillbaby.com. 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Doman, Glenn (2005) [1974]. What To Do About Your Brain-injured Child (Revised ed.). Square One. ISBN 978-0757001864.
  15. ^ Gilbert, Scott F. (2006). "Ernst Haeckel and the Biogenetic Law". DevBio a Companion to: Developmental Biology, 9th edition. Sinauer Associates. Archived from the original on 2008-02-03. Retrieved 2008-05-03. Eventually, the Biogenetic Law had become scientifically untenable.
  16. ^ Payne, David G.; Wenger, Michael J. (1998). Cognitive Psychology. Houghton Mifflin College Division. p. 352. ISBN 9780395685730.
  17. ^ a b c "Controversial treatment for brain-injured children". WPVI Action News: HealthCheck. Philadelphia, PA. December 1, 2007. American Broadcasting Company (ABC). WPVI. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  18. ^ Zigler, Edward; Hodapp, Robert M. (1986). "Searching for Miracle Cures". Understanding Mental Retardation. Cambridge University Press. pp. 185–6. ISBN 9780521318785.
  19. ^ Scherzer, Alfred L. (2000). Early Diagnosis and Interventional Therapy in Cerebral Palsy: An Interdisciplinary Age-Focused Approach (3rd, Revised ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 376. ISBN 9780824760069.
  20. ^ Myles, Brenda Smith; Swanson, Terri Cooper; Holverstott, Jeanne; Duncan, Megan Moore (2007). Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals. Greenwood. pp. 243–6. ISBN 9780313336324.
  21. ^ a b c d Committee on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Pediatrics; Ziring, P.R.; brazdziunas, D.; Cooley, W.C.; et al. (1999). "The treatment of neurologically impaired children using patterning". Pediatrics. 104 (5 Pt 1): 1149–51. doi:10.1542/peds.104.5.1149. PMID 10545565.
  22. ^ a b American Academy of Pediatrics (1 June 1968). "Doman-Delacato treatment of neurologically handicapped children". AAP Newsletter.
  23. ^ American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Children With Disabilities (1982). "The Doman-Delacato treatment of neurologically handicapped children" (PDF). Pediatrics. 70 (5): 810–2. doi:10.1542/peds.70.5.810. PMID 6182521. S2CID 38331238.
  24. ^ American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). "AAP publications reaffirmed and retired". Pediatrics (Policy Statement). 126 (4): e994. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-2212.
  25. ^ American Academy for Cerebral Palsy (February 15, 1965), Doman-Delacato treatment of neurologically handicapped children. Statement of Executive Committee, Rosemont, IL: American Academy for Cerebral Palsy.
  26. ^ United Cerebral Palsy Association of Texas, The Doman-Delacato Treatment of Neurologically Handicapped Children (information bulletin), Austin, TX: United Cerebral Palsy Association of Texas.
  27. ^ Canadian Association for Retarded Children (Fall 1965). "Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential". Ment Retard: 27–8.
  28. ^ American Academy of Neurology and American Academy of Pediatrics Joint Executive Board Statement (1967). "The Doman-Delacato treatment of neurologically handicapped children". Neurology. 17 (7): 637. doi:10.1212/wnl.17.7.637. S2CID 79862057. {{cite journal}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  29. ^ American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (1968). "Doman-Delacato treatment of neurologically handicapped children". Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 49 (4): 183–6. PMID 4296733.
  30. ^ Malkowicz, D.E.; Myers, G.; Leisman, G. (2006). "Rehabilitation of cortical visual impairment in children". Int J Neurosci. 116 (9): 1015–33. doi:10.1080/00207450600553505. PMID 16861165. S2CID 1486751.
  31. ^ Erickson, Martha Farrell; Kurz-Riemer, Karen Marie (2002). Infants Toddlers and Families. Guilford Press. pp. 17, 204. ISBN 978-1572307780.
  32. ^ Quill, Kathleen Ann (1995). Teaching Children With Autism. Thomson Delmar Learning. pp. 57, 336. ISBN 978-0827362697.
  33. ^ Prendergrast, M. (2006). "The Neurology of Autism". Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology (book review). 48 (5): 400.
  34. ^ a b Novella, S. (2008). "Psychomotor patterning: A critical look". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2008-10-23.

Further reading[edit]

Bratt, Berneen (1989). No Time for Jello: One Family's Experiences with the Doman-Delacato Patterning Program. Brookline. ISBN 9780914797562.

External links[edit]