It seems an area of child development is neglected by medicine and psychology; the area of primitive reflexes. One time, before beginning school, a doctor would check a child’s reflexes making sure the child is appropriately ready for school physically, that they have the appropriate reflexive function and not retained ones they shouldn’t.
This is why neuro-developmental psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, an expert in early education, recommends screening children for basic physical problems at five, saying developmental difficulties can have a major bearing on later academic results.
Quoted recently in the Telegraph she says,
All infants should be given physical checks at the age of five amid concerns too many children are starting school unable to hold a pencil, sit still or stand up straight, according to a leading academic.
Basic screening should be introduced to mark out pupils who lack the fundamental physical attributes needed to take part in lessons, it was claimed.
The tests were needed because large numbers of children with basic developmental problems were “slipping through the net.
In a new book, she insisted there was a clear link between poor physical co-ordination in primary school and performance in literacy and numeracy tests taken at the age of 11, she said.
Research has suggested as many as half of children have an underlying problem with undeveloped physical skills.
Difficulties are likely to be getting worse because of a reduction in the amount of time spent playing outdoors over the last 30 or 40 years, she said, with rising numbers of children remaining glued to TV screens and games consoles.
Mrs Goddard Blythe said physical coordination, balance and good posture was needed before the start of school to allow children to develop the fine motor skills required to hold a pencil in lessons. She said,
If basic physical skills are underdeveloped, children are going to struggle with dependent learning tasks.
It introduces a mechanical problem in the action of writing, which may just interfere with how much a child writes or what their handwriting looks like. But in some cases it can also interfere with the ability to think and write at the same time; to express thoughts in written form.
These physical problems act as mechanical barriers to the ability to translate information from the brain, through the body onto paper.
The book – Neuromotor Immaturity in Children and Adults – said that children were currently checked for major medical problems throughout the early years without being screened for the development of physical skills.
She said the main causes were medical problems in pregnancy, birth or the first year of life, which combine together to “interfere with the normal development” of children.
But she said there may be other “social and environmental factors that are contributing,” adding, “Children are not getting the same physical opportunities for free exploration, play and movement that the got 30 or 40 years ago. There may be social and environmental reasons behind these rates of neuro-motor development.”
Tests and Treatment
Tests should include being able to stand on one leg, stand upright for several seconds while opening and closing their eyes and walking along an invisible straight line heel to toe.
Pupils who struggle the most can be given simple physical exercises to enable them to reapply the reflexes and physical coordination they should have picked up as toddlers, she said.
Without these attributes, many young people lack the physical maturity needed to support skills such as balance, hand-eye coordination, the control of eye movements needed to read and even the ability to sit still, it was claimed.
For more on primitive reflexes and neuro-physiological psychology visit:
the INPP institute in Chester: http://www.inpp.org.uk/
Sally Goddard-Blythe’s website: http://sallygoddardblythe.co.uk/
and in Ireland contact Mary O’Connor at http://www.brainandbehaviour.ie
A related article on ADHD can be found here