I met Paul* when he was 15 months old. He was with his mom Mary and his twin brother John. John was tottering about exploring his first steps while Paul shuffled about on his bum. I got chatting to Mary. She told me she had been trying to encourage Paul to walk by standing him up. I asked if her had ever crawled and she said no.
As a movement therapist I understand the vast importance of moving through the early movement patterns and developmental stages. Crawling well is especially vital to a childs’ physical, emotional and mental development. I gave Mary some examples of ways in which not crawling could affect Paul in the long run…for example difficulty with holding a pen, transcribing something from a blackboard to a copy book, difficulty in sports due to poor hand-eye coordination, poorly developed muscles, physical misalignment and pain which could show up in any part of the body, poor social skills and difficulty connecting with others and much much more. Of course not everyone who misses crawling experiences all of these possible outcomes but many do.
Mary decided to bring Paul along to my studio for some movement therapy work. We began the following week. The first thing I noticed about Paul was the extent to which he had maintained his embryonic shape. In the womb babies are naturally in a C shape. At birth the body opens out for the first time and over the first 6 months or so looses the c curve in the spine. Paul had maintained his. I could see if he continued as he was going there would be back problems later in life. I asked Mary to hold Paul in an ‘aeroplane’ to check his Landau reflex. At 15 months I would expect a child to lift his head and limbs, Paul hung quite limply much like a new born would do. When i tickled the base of his spine he extended out briefly and laughed. I could tell that the peripheral nerves in his back needed more stimulation. Mary told me that Paul was in the habit when sitting of throwing himself backwards into space, giving her quite a fright! It seemed to me that Paul was trying to sense where his back was in space, that he could not feel his back. His shape suggested excessive muscle tone in his abdomen and a lack of tone in his back. I guessed this would have implications for his digestion too and Mary confirmed that Paul suffered from chronic constipation.
Paul was comfortable on his back, could roll quite efficiently and come up for brief periods onto his forearms in the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). I was happy to see all that. Paul did not like being on his tummy for very long and we needed to keep him highly entertained to keep him there! As all the experts will agree tummy time is crucial. I knew that for Paul spending more time on the tummy every day would encourage the abdominal muscles to soften and in turn allow his intestines to relax, relieving the constipation. It would also encourage him to lift his head more and more, helping him to feel and to strengthen his back. Encouraging greater muscle tone, nerve tone and sensation in his back, neck, head and face. This would help him to straighten and find better posture and decrease the chance of back problems. Lifting his head from laying on his tummy he would develop his STNR and the relating spatial awareness, he would start to look further afield and see things in the distance more and more, bringing him more out of shell and into the world and relationship.
As well as the curve in his Spine, Pauls’ hips were overly loose and open and when he attempted to go onto hands and knees his knees would open out too wide and he would fall back down to the ground again. I offered Paul support either side of his legs and he was able to come onto hands and knees, a couple of times he rocked forward and back here, this is a great sign. The rocking movement encourages the nervous system and brain to learn and recognise a new movement pattern.
I gave Mary some suggestions for work she could do with Paul at home to follow on from our session. The brain needs daily repitition for something new to make sense to it and change to happen. I explained to Mary that visits here would not be enough unless she were able to work with him at home aswell.
Mary did work with Paul for about 5 minutes two or three times a day and when i saw Paul the following week I was delighted with his progress, he was now able to come onto hands and knees alone, his hip control had increased and so he could stay up on hands and knees. He was also much more comfortable spending time on his tummy. Mary had already seen improvements in his constipation aswell.
All together I worked with Paul just four times over a two month period. The last time I saw Paul, he was crawling perfectly. His spinal curve was 90% improved, his constipation was gone and he seemed like a much older and more confidant child.
I also noticed that Paul had been quite inwardly focused in our first sessions, he made little eye contact, and his mom had reported that he did not particularly like cuddles and seemed to want to be left alone. He often got frustrated and angry. At our last session Pauls’ face was open and communicative, he had gained a lot of neck control and i saw his head make more subtle movements and his face was much more expressive. He was warm and affectionate with both me and his mom and crawled into her lap several times for cuddles. I almost cried when i saw him cuddle her then push away so he could look her right in the eyes and then move back in for another cuddle. Mary confirms that he has become much more affectionte and she feels he wants to connect more, she also tells me he hardly ever gets angry or frustrated now. Paul seemed like an entirely different child then the one i had met just two months previously.
Mary needs to do much less work with Paul at home now and i will only need to see him again if anything new arises. I feel confident that if he continues as he is going then all the earlier concerns we had will no longer be concerns. Pauls’ life will be easier, less challenging and more enjoyable.
*All names have been changed
Gwen Mc Hale is a Somatic Therapist and Movement Educator based in Co Clare, Ireland. She works with individual clients, both adults and children, and runs workshops and retreats.