“When he can, he will” : NeuroMovement® and Developmental Milestones
When a child has a disability, usually their challenges first become apparent as missed or delayed milestones. From subtle developments, like a smile or eye tracking, to the more noticeable accomplishments of rolling, sitting, and crawling, their development is carefully observed and recorded. Everyone knows what the child can’t do, and there is an urgency to help them meet those milestones.
There is a great temptation to think that if we just show them what they should be doing, they will somehow figure it out. We know he should be sitting up by now, so we sit him up again and again, counting how long he can stay balanced before he topples over into our arms. She seems so close to being able to walk, so we encourage her to hold on to our fingers and help her toddle across the room. We do these things with the best of intentions, but with a fundamental misunderstanding of how children develop.
Child development is a self-driven process that takes a typical child from being completely helpless to being able to run across a room in 3 years. A fundamental truth of human development is that the child does not learn to do an action by doing that exact action. If a baby needed to be able to “practice” rolling over, sitting, or standing to be able to do those things, he would never develop because he wouldn’t be able to get in the position to “practice” in the first place.
So how do babies learn? Let’s look at the example of rolling over. One day, a caregiver discovers their baby has rolled over onto her stomach. What happened that allowed her to figure out how to get from her back to her belly? The simple answer is - everything. All of her experiences from her birth up to the point she rolled - experiences of kicking, reaching, turning, twisting, etc. - allowed her to create the neural connections necessary to be able to coordinate all the different muscular actions needed to roll over. The milestone of rolling over is the culmination of all of the baby’s learning so far, and now that she can roll she will begin generating new experiences in new positions that allow her to develop even further.
This is how it works for all of a child’s milestones. When a child is not sitting, it’s because there is something he hasn’t learned yet that is keeping him from being able to sit independently. Repeatedly placing him in sitting doesn’t teach him the “missing piece,” rather it forces him to try and sit without all the experiences necessary to do it well. And sometimes that “works” in the sense that the child is able to maintain that position, but he learns to do so in an unsteady, effortful, or undifferentiated way.
But what can we do instead? The most effective way to support a child in reaching an unmet milestone is to help her learn those “missing pieces” - the things she needs to learn in order to coordinate that action.
In NeuroMovement®, the practitioner is trained in detecting those missing pieces - things like being able to arch the lower back, or the relationship between the shoulder and the hip - and is able to use gentle and varied movement to help the child’s brain form those missing connections. We don’t make a child practice doing what he can’t do; instead we help him learn at the level he is at, and know that when he has formed the connections necessary to be able to sit, or stand, or walk…then he will.