My 12 year old client was balancing on my round yoga balancing board while simultaneously holding an infinity loop marble board and rolling marbles around it rhythmically. Have you ever tried something like that? It takes a tremendous amount of balance, coordination and focus to accomplish it, and there he was- doing it like it was easy as pie.
To understand why this was such an accomplishment, you must first understand where we started. When I began working with this child, he didn’t even know where his feet were. By saying that- what I mean is that his proprioceptive system (the sensory system that helps you to know where your body is in space) was under-developed enough that he would literally “slap” his legs when we were doing our Brain Gym® Cross Crawl activity. He would do this because he needed the stronger sensory input to tell where his feet and legs were in space. He would slap his legs so hard that his mother and I were genuinely concerned that he would hurt himself.
I’ve talked a lot about Primitive Reflex Integration in my blog posts, but the topics I haven’t touched upon as much are the sensory systems. Specifically, the Proprioceptive and Vestibular systems.
There is a lot of information I could get into about these two systems, but I want to just give you a brief overview so that you can have a better understanding of them. Primitive Reflex Integration is important for the development of these sensory systems and as a result we often see growth in this area.
As I mentioned- the Proprioceptive System is the sensory system that helps us to “know where we are in space”. Proprioceptors are located in our muscles, joints and tendons and proprioceptive processing contributes to gross and fine motor skills and posture. It also helps us to keep track of our body parts and control our body movements.
So, if the Proprioceptive System isn’t working as well as it should, kids (and even adults) might need more input to tell where certain body parts are. They might tap their foot so they can feel where it is, or they might need to look at a particular body part before touching it because they can’t sense where it is without the visual input. This system also tells us how much pressure we need to complete a task. For example, holding a pencil or carrying a backpack. Without the appropriate input, we might grip the pencil more than is needed, or drop something as we pick it up.
The other sensory system I want to touch upon, the vestibular system, provides the brain with information about our relationship with gravity through our head movement. In simplest terms, it’s our balance system. Located in our inner ear, it helps us with body awareness, gravitational relationship, balance and coordination. If the vestibular system is immature, it can cause us to feel dizzy more easily and to prefer being still rather than moving. Now, if a child is seeking vestibular input, we might see the opposite- a need to bounce, spin, etc.
I’ve written before about how the body knows what it needs and the same applies for these sensory systems. When my son first started at Brain Fit, he would spin on our coaches toy (called a dizzy disc) at the beginning of every session. Now, he would not just spin, but would spin as fast as he could, for as long as we would let him. His body was seeking the vestibular input. His vestibular system was under-developed and needed the spinning to help move it along.
Similarly, this 12 year old that I am referring to, was also seeking vestibular input when I first started working with him. He would meet me at my car when I arrived and carry my big green ball into the house. He’d immediately start bouncing on it- as high and as forcefully as he could. I used to sit behind him and hold onto his waist for safety while he bounced. I would hold onto him while he worked his vestibular and proprioceptive systems.
During this ball bouncing time, I knew exactly what he was doing. His body knew exactly what it needed and that big ball was the tool to help. This need to work the sensory systems didn’t last forever, and eventually he told me I didn’t need to bring the ball anymore. Just like how my son eventually stopped spinning on the dizzy disc at the beginning of every one of his Brain Fit session and moved on to other things.
I love to see the changes in kids as we do this work together, and the developments of these sensory systems are fun to witness. I know that the time during sessions spent spinning and bouncing and jumping and moving is all part of the process. It’s getting specific type of movements into the body that are needed in order to continue development and help organize the brain.
During our Brain Fit sessions, the Primitive Reflexes integrate, the sensory systems develop, and the changes we see are noticeable and positive.
It’s a beautiful thing.