I recently went to the Section on Pediatrics Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA. It was an amazing 3 days of information all related to pediatrics. One of the talks I went to talked about the development of movement and the variability that goes along with that. This is in relation to all kids, not just kids with physical challenges. Stacey Dusing, PT, PhD was the researcher and she discussed a lot of the research she has done on the development of movement, specifically postural control. A lot of what she talked about was not surprising to me, however I had never sat down and formulated into words, what I was watching when I worked with kids. As infants begin to develop movement and explore they use a lot of variability in their movement. No two movements will look alike in the learning phase because they are trying out strategies to see what works best and what will be the most efficient and effective for them. For instance when a child is learning how to develop sitting balance they are swaying all over the place if you were to look at their movements on a force plate. As they become better at maintaining balance their movements will decrease and become more efficient but before they can do that they need to explore their body and their muscles. Every movement is a learning opportunity for them based on cause and effect. They start to learn that if I go too far this way I fall over. After doing this a few times their body can start to remember what will happen and try using other muscles to prevent them from falling. They also start to figure out how far they can move and not fall over. Even for kids who have challenges with movement they can still practice this strategy. Going all the way back to head turning while lying on their back, the child is trying to figure out how to get their head in the middle and keep it there. If they keep getting stuck with it all the way on one side you can help to limit the range of their movement by creating a gentle bumper so they know they’ve gone too far and will try to bring it back to the middle. In sitting the same thing can happen. Instead of holding your child in sitting so they don’t fall over let them explore their body and space and use gentle taps to help remind them that maybe they’ve gone too far. Create a safe environment for them to fall because the falling is just as important for their development as their ability to remain upright. Errors in movement are okay because they get to learn from their ‘mistakes’. If they never experience a ‘mistake’ then they may not develop multiple strategies and will only utilize one pattern. In some of Dr. Dusing’s research she found that she could begin to predict who would have movement delays based on the lack of variability in their movement.
The key here is to allow your children to explore how their body moves and learn from the cause and effect of that movement. Infants should be given lots of floor time to develop movement!