Thursday, April 15, 2010
If you've had a child in speech, occupational, or physical therapy you may have heard about the importance of "crossing midline". When my children were younger, I heard from therapists that it was very important for babies to spend time on their tummies. In addition to helping the brain make connections as the child views things from different perspectives, changes in positioning provides different proprioceptive and vestibular input. Being on the tummy encourages a child to push up with her arms, which strengthens the upper body muscles. This is important for a growing child so she can develop the muscle tone and strength needed to reach over her head or move the arms outward and across the body with a good range of motion. Without such development, the child will have difficulty sustaining a physical posture or repeating motions without rapidly fatiguing. Therapists also work on helping a child to "cross midline" in a number of ways. When a child can reach her right hand across to the left side of her body and vice versa, she is crossing her midline with her arms. In addition to these large movements, a child crosses midline when reading as her eyes move from one side of the page to another without moving her entire head as she reads. The tongue crosses midline as it moves food from side to side to position the food onto the molars for chewing. When any of these activities occur, information is transferred from one brain hemisphere across the corpus callosum to the other brain hemisphere. The corpus callosum is a fibrous band between the two hemispheres and allows for the exchange of information between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This side-to-side sharing of information is important for fluency in processing and acting on information received. When information is not readily crossing from one side of the brain to the other, there is usually a learning glitch or struggle. In the picture above, you can see that this child tended to paint in the same area, primarily on the right side of the paper. This same child, when the paint utensil was placed in his left hand, painted primarily on the left side of the page. This was just one indication that he was not readily crossing midline and might need some help to develop in that area. One of my favorite resources for addressing this and other brain processing issues is the book Brain Gym. It provides descriptions and illustrations of simple exercises that promote crossing midline, increasing alertness, improving handwriting, readiness for reading, and more. The exercises can be done by both children and adults in just a few minutes prior to a specific task. I have used the "brain buttons" and other exercises from Brain Gym to increase my alertness when feeling the fatiguing effects of a long car trip. With my AD/HD children, I had them do some exercises between school assignments to ready their brains and bodies for focused attention to the task at hand. Such simple exercises are easily implemented and help the brain develop pathways across the midline of the brain, resulting in more efficient processing and learning.