Since the boys were little, I have been hearing a lot about how movement is good for brain development. In fact, movement is so beneficial that if you could only do one thing for your cognitive development and nothing else, it should be something physical. We’ve also seen how sports and physical activity are not only good for brain development, but they also help with your child’s academic performance at school. It reveals the fallacy of the whole “dumb jock” stereotype that we’ve been mislead into believing.
Movement Helps Boost Children’s Learning
Movement is not just good for cognitive development, it is also beneficial in helping children to learn. An article from Scientific American discusses how acting out in school enhanced students learning. Let us be clear, this is not the kind of “acting out” that comes to mind when you hear the term – we are not talking about children misbehaving. Simplistically, it refers to a method of using bodily movement to enhance the learning of abstract material.
Educationally beneficial acting out is based on the theory of embodied cognition. We often think of cognition as something cerebral, that is, as occurring in the brain and having little to do with the rest of the body. The separation of mind and body, however, is a myth. Cognition helps us to survive by guiding our behavior, and to do that, cognition must be attuned to the body.
The theory of embodied cognition also tells us that the abstractions that are important for language, mathematics, physics, and so on, are understood by grounding or mapping the abstract material onto our bodily experiences.
All of the work on acting out suggests that classrooms should include more physical activity designed to map abstract information onto bodily experiences.
This strong connection between movement and learning raises significant concerns especially in regards to our expectations of active children who may be misdiagnosed as having ADHD.
Movements that Heal
So movement is good for brain development and it’s good for learning, but what about using physical activity for helping children with cognitive and learning disabilities?
In “The Brain That Changes Itself“, I read about Pedro, a 65 year old man who had suffered a massive stroke that paralysed his face and half his body, leaving him unable to speak. His stroke was so bad that 97% of the nerves from the cerebral cortex to the spine had been destroyed. The lesion affected his brain stem and other major brain centers in the cortex responsible for movement. It was medically agreed that Pedro would never be able to recover from such a severe stroke and be able to lead a normal life. Unwilling to give up, his sons began their own rehabilitation for their father. They started teaching him how to crawl, much in the way babies are encouraged to crawl, and they made him practice simple exercises like scrubbing pots in a circular motion. They built upon each exercise as Pedro began to slowly recover his abilities. Pedro made such an stunning recovery that he was able to go back to work as a lecturer after three years. He was able to travel and go hiking and he remained active for another 7 years after his stroke.
Isn’t that amazing? I thought it was amazing. Medical science thought it was amazing. Now I’m wondering… If movement exercises can help a 65 year old man recover from a massive stroke and help him learn to speak again, what can it do for children with cognitive and learning disabilities?
There have been a number of intervention programs that involve the use of physical activity and movement to help children with cognitive and learning disabilities. A couple that I have encountered include:
Rhythmic Movement Training
Recently, I was introduced to another program that helps children with learning disabilities. It’s called Rhythmic Movement Training. It is a program that offers parents a drug-free therapy for their children with cognitive and learning disabilities, like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. It has also been used with children who are having learning difficulties at school for whatever reason.
The premise for RMT goes all the back to when a baby is born. When a baby is born, there is a change in environment from water (amniotic fluid in the womb) to land (life outside the womb) – so to speak. This change in environment requires a reprogramming of the senses, in particular:
- Vestibular – balance
- Tactile – touch
- Proprioceptive – positioning of each body part (for instance, when I am eating, I need to know where my hands are so I can pick up food and move it to my mouth – proprioception allows me to do this)
The reprogramming of these senses occurs when the baby is given adequate opportunity for interaction with the environment – being rocked, touched, and turned out; learning to grasp objects and put them into her mouth; learning to crawl around; etc. At the same time, these basic explorations of a baby are also triggering the development of the neural network in the brains – they help to build useful connections between the numerous brain cells in the baby’s brain.
When babies are born, they also have in their arsenal a series of primitive reflexes developed in the womb. These reflexes are important for survival – for instance, the rooting, sucking and swallowing reflexes helps babies to feed. As a baby grows, these primitive reflexes need to mature and become integrated into more complex motor skills and higher level brain function as more neural connections in the brain are made. According to RMT philosophy, there is a specific developmental process and timeline for this to happen. It is like a cascade reaction and if any step is missed along the way, it disrupts the process and can prevent the necessary brain connections from forming. This, in turn, can lead to learning difficulties in the child’s later life.
The practice of RMT takes children back to those missed developmental milestones that are crucial for their brain development. It has been used to help individuals on the Austism spectrum, dyslexia, ADHD, and other psychological dysfunctions. The program involves the use of 17 basic movements, including isometric pressure techniques and other movements that do not contain rhythmic elements. The purpose of the training is to integrate the primitive reflexes and to help establish the postural reflexes.
What are the exercises like? Well, they are similar to the basic developmental stages a baby goes through…
More about Rhythmic Movement Training
Learn more about Rhythmic Movement Training from Gill Brooksmith:
You can also read lot more about RMT in the book “Movements That Heal” by Harald Blomberg, but before you do, it should be made clear that although I see value and potential in Rhythmic Movement Training, I do not agree with everything written in this book. For instance, there is talk about autism and vaccines again and you all know how I feel about that… Blomberg cites the Wakefield study for support even though that study has been retracted by the Lancet in February 2010.
Wakefield has been unable to reproduce his results in the face of criticism, and other researchers have been unable to match them. Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he had had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers — a serious conflict of interest he failed to disclose. After years on controversy, the Lancet, the prestigious journal that originally published the research, retracted Wakefield’s paper last February. – CNN
Nevertheless, there is a sound basis in science regarding the effect of movement and motor function on the brain. RMT has also produced significant results for various individuals with cognitive disabilities. It would be foolish to deny the value of a treatment because I didn’t agree with some of the philosophies of an author.
Testimonials for RMT
Adapted from Movements That Heal.
Lauren Harrington, Texas USA, April 2010:
Harry is a child with autism. He started RMT when he was 10 years old. After one year of RMT, Harry is not so scared of new things, and he has made friends with quite a number of people. He is learning empathy and how to respond in a loving way. Among the improvements are his reading and writing skills, and his ability to participate in group activities. He started playing the piano and making up his own songs. He is talking and communicating in ways he could never do before.
Mia Sangadi, Jakarta Indonesia, July 2010:
Mia’s son has ADHD and autism. He offered little by way of communication, social interaction, and there was no eye contact. He was impulsive and hyper-active. After two years of RMT, he is drawing many things using his imagination (as opposed to drawing the same thing over and over, obsessively). He can tell stories and he can make eye contact. His communication has improved tremendously and he is able to connect with other people around him (not just his family members).
Stewart Coad, Melbourne Australia, January 2010:
Stewart has Asperger’s. Social anxiety is one of his biggest problems. RMT has helped him managed his fear and set him free.
Rhythmic Movement Training in Malaysia
Rhythmic Movement Training is available in Malaysia from Brain Connection:
Address: No. 20-1 Jalan 17/54, 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Facebook: Brain Connection on Facebook