How to assess a walker:
Number one step: Observe the way the body moves when walking or crawling on the mat. If the person cannot follow the neuromat pattern, this means that their brain is not successfully integrating messages across the midline and from one hemisphere to the other. This is your first clue they NEED the neuromat! I cannot stress this enough. Remember that all complex tasks require both hemispheres to work together! If the walker or crawler tends to continue moving in the same direction (hence, bodies in motion stay in motion) and require assistance in order to turn their body during each turn of the neuromat pattern, their brain needs more practice of the neuromat movement. As the brain becomes more efficient, you may notice the walker or crawler requires less and less assistance in order to move successfully during several complete rotations.
Beginner neuromat walkers often do not use their arms in a typical arm swing motion. You may notice that the arms simply hand by their sides. Another clue they need the mat. As their brain becomes more integrated, the arms will begin to swing just like they do in their natural gait pattern.
Does the walker appear confused or do they need to stop or slow down during each turn of the pattern? Motor planning is a very important neurological skill. Almost all of behavior involves motor function, from talking to gesturing to walking. But even a simple movement like reaching to pick up an object can be a complex motor task. Not only does your brain have to figure out what muscles to contract and in which order to steer your hand to the object, it also has to estimate the force needed to pick up the object. Other factors, like how heavy is the object, also influence the brains calculations. Not surprisingly, there are many anatomical regions which are involved in motor function.
The primary motor cortex, or M1, is one of the principal brain areas involved in motor function. M1 is located in the frontal lobe of the brain, along a bump called the precentral gyrus. The role of the primary motor cortex is to generate neural impulses that control the execution of movement. Signals from M1 cross the body’s midline to activate skeletal muscles on the opposite side of the body, meaning that the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body, and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. Every part of the body is represented in the primary motor cortex, and these representations are all related. For example, the fingers are next to the hand, which are next to the arm, which are next to the trunk, which are next to the legs, which are next to the feet. The amount of brain matter devoted to any particular body part represents the amount of control that the primary motor cortex has over that body part. For example, a lot of cortical space is required to control the complex movements of the hand and fingers, and these body parts have larger representations in M1 than the trunk or legs, whose muscle patterns are relatively simple. https://brainconnection.brainhq.com/2013/03/05/the-anatomy-of-movement/
Can the walker look down at the circles as they walk or crawl? Can they look down and back up again without getting disoriented? Do they demonstrate systems of dizziness when they walk on the mat? If any of these symptoms occur, this is another clue they need the neuromat! When the vestibular system is compromised, the result is dizziness. The body maintains balance by receiving sensory information from three areas: the inner ear or vestibular system, proprioception which is information from touch of the hands and feet, and from the visual system. The brain must constantly evaluate the information from all of these systems at the same time. By walking on the neuromat, we can improve the way our brains react to movement.
Integrating vision to be able to converge and diverge is a very important skill which is often misinterpreted by educators. Visual processing is the sequence of steps that information takes as it flows from visual sensors to cognitive processing organs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_processing.
One of my most favorite websites that I often recommend to parents, therapists, and teachers is http://eyecanlearn.com/. Please visit this site to learn more about the importance of and how visual processing works in the brain. “If you know a child who struggles, the underlying cause may be vision–even if the child has 20/20 eyesight. Visual processing skills like tracking, eye teaming, and visual perception are the developmental skills that all children need in addition to seeing clearly. If these skills don’t develop normally, children can struggle with demanding visual tasks like reading. Each year as print gets smaller, school performance drops, and as visual fatigue sits in, children become easily frustrated and distracted. All too often, these children appear to have a learning disability or attention problems when the real culprit is poor visual processing skills. Glasses can’t help, but eye exercises can! This website will give you good information on vision-based learning problems, and we have even provided you with a great assessment tool to determine if your child is at risk. However, children do not have to have poor vision skills to benefit from these eye exercises. Even children and adults with adequate visual processing can sharpen and improve the learning-related vision skills they already have!”
As I mentioned in the activates section, crawling is a skill that many don’t understand how it is to development. Crawling stimulates the brain stem which promotes self-regulation. It works on shoulder stability critical for fine motor activities. Hands, fingers, and wrists become stronger, also critical for fine motor skills. Visual skills are reinforced by looking up and then back down again, thus encouraging the eyes to diverge and converge. This visual skill is important because as children begin to attend to books and learn to read, they must follow along word by word and line by line and not lose their place along the way. What many don’t realize is that this skill is actually developed very early in life. Crawling also encourages right-left brain activity, balance, weight shifting, weight bearing on the joints, core strength, bilateral integration, body awareness, and motor planning.