I was giving a presentation the other night on Strength Training for Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder and it led to an interesting conversation with the attendees. It was actually a really great conversation because it was a collaboration amongst a mix of pediatric and adult therapists.
We were discussing children who have hypotonia (low muscle tone), and how they have a harder time turning their muscles on and keeping them on. Strengthening helps them to be more efficient with turning their muscles on but their low tone never goes away. It came up that they often become tired easily, and this can show up in school, because they have to focus on their posture (staying in their seat) as well as whatever activity they are doing.
One therapist shared a great story about a child she was working with who was struggling with a specific test that he had to take every week at school because he was focusing on staying in his chair, writing on his paper, and answering the questions in a timed fashion. His scores were not very good. They came up with a strategy (that the school approved) for him to do a modified plank on his knees before the test. Immediately his test scores started to improve because he was priming his muscles to turn on during the activity. It was easier for him to keep himself in his chair because he reminded his muscles that they need to work. A few weeks later, the teacher reported that all of the kids wanted to do this and started doing the modified plank with him (so now he doesn’t look any different than his peers). I thought this was a great example of how to support education through physical activity.
I know myself, when I do a 10 minute yoga routine I put together, my posture is better (without me thinking about it) for the rest of the day. This is because I have reminded my posture muscles that they are supposed to be working.
So how can we use this? For kids that have lower muscle tone, we might want to consider giving them a physical activity at the start of their day that can prime their muscles. This could be modified plank or bear walking or some simple yoga poses. Or if not at the beginning of their day maybe before a test at school or before they start their homework or before PE or other physical activity.
I know families who have kids with low tone who have been able to move on from physical therapy and get their kids involved in martial arts, swimming, or gymnastics (to name a few). This is great because these activities help with whole body muscle activation as well as provide a social way to keep active.
I’d love to hear other ideas you have for ‘priming the muscles’!