Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekly Article: What Is A Well-Balanced Child? by Nina Kaufelt, New Amsterdam Parent

What Is A Well-Balanced Child?
A Note from Nina Kaufelt

Here’s a discovery: children who struggle with learning and attention often have vestibular trouble—trouble with balance! Isn’t it something to find that the well-balanced child is, in fact, well-balanced?   (Note to parents: In adults, trouble with balance is associated with anxiety. Isn’t it something to discover that the composed and poised adult is, in fact, well-balanced?)

Balance is maintained through three systems: the visual, vestibular, and biomechanical.  The eyes tell your brain a lot about where your body is.  (“Watch your step!”) The vestibular system uses proprioception,  the body’s way of telling the brain where the body is in space.  (Close your eyes and raise your hand; proprioreception tells you where your hand is.) The biomechanical system includes the ankles, knees, and hips. Responding to information from the brain (both visual and vestibular), these actors tweak your position to keep you upright.

Sally Goddard-Blythe has explained  the connection between balance and learning and offers a treatment.  Not long after conception, the healthy baby develops a series of primitive reflexes, many of which have been discovered and named. Those who know newborns know the Moro or “startle” reflex.  Scare the infant, and his arms fly up in a U-shape, as if saying, “Catch me!”  The sucking reflex is connected to the grasping reflex, as any nursing mother who has felt those little kneading fingers knows. Together, the reflexes have many purposes: turning in the womb to be born; safety; comfort; forming a foundation for more mature movements.

In time, most reflexes are then “integrated.”  They are no longer involuntary, but they do not entirely disappear. They can now be recruited as needed for controlled, voluntary movements directed by the brain.  In this phase, the body and brain establish a new kind of cooperation.

In some children, however, the primitive reflexes remain, and this can cause trouble.  Consider balance.  The presence of retained primitive reflexes affects all three systems responsible for this critical skill.  One also finds primitive reflexes in children with sensory issues (aural, visual, or tactile) and those with learning challenges.

The treatment is movement!  Trained therapists in the UK, Australia, Asia, Mexico, and (recently) in the US take school children through certain steps designed to integrate the primitive reflexes.  According to Steven Dubin, who teaches this program, children who practice these moves can benefit in all the realms where retained reflexes have caused them to stumble.  The right moves can enhance neurological development; soothe sensory distractions; and remedy learning-related issues, such as the visual tracking  necessary for reading, or the good posture necessary for good handwriting.

For more information:

The Well-Balanced Child by Sally Goddard-Blythe

In 1996, Sally adapted and extended clinical research on reflexes to create therapeutic exercises for schools, especially for children with learning difficulties.  Thousands of teachers in the UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Hungary, and Poland have learned the program, which has also been independently studied. Two practitioners of this therapy in the New York Metro area are below.

Steven Dubin
973 653 6077

Paul Stadler
347 247 6835

© Nina Kaufelt, March 2012