Why I created the neuromat®
As an educator I have known this for years. Activities that encourage bilateral brain function (both hemispheres) can have a significant effect on neurological and learning outcomes. Figure 8 patterning has long been recognized as an effective therapeutic strategy. Even in sports training, we use figure 8 movement to increase agility and motor coordination. Now you know why your coach made you run around those orange cones, right? Well, despite the known benefits, I found it difficult to be consistent in offering this method to my students and clients. Recommendations include such things as putting tape or yarn on the floor to having your students/clients walk around chairs or obstacles in a figure 8 pattern. Sounds easy? Well for me it wasn't!
So, my story began when I made a commitment to myself to consistently offer figure 8 walking as a therapeutic strategy. Believe me, it was not pretty or effective! I tried the tape, the yarn, the toys and none of these proved easy or beneficial. I needed a new way! Then one day as I was getting toys out of the trunk of my car (every child therapist always has toys readily available!) I noticed my yoga mat. Oh my goodness, that’s it! I could use chalk and draw a figure 8 on the mat. For me, that was my AHA moment I will never forget. This new strategy worked extremely well, but it still was not perfect. I noticed my clients needed a more effective visual stimulus and the thought of using colored circles/shapes was born. Months of trial and error lead us to what we call today the “neuromat”.
To be clear, listed below are the "traditional" figure 8 recommendations and why I personally do not prescribe:
- Walking around two chairs. The chairs are placed at each end of the invisible figure 8. Problems often occur as a chair suggests to the walker it is time to sit down. This provides a huge distraction at each turn as the walker attempts to sit down and then must be physically and/or verbally redirected. This greatly disrupts the flow of the learning pattern. The neurofeedback is inconsistent and thus learning must start all over again. The walker receives no visual imprint of the figure 8 pattern.
- Two objects or toys placed on the floor for the walker to walk around, similar to the chairs mentioned above. Again, the figure 8 is invisible to the learner. The distraction here is, of course, the objects or toys. The walker is visually distracted to pick up the object or toy and do what they have been taught to do which is to interact with the object or toy. Learning is inconsistent and again there is no visual understanding of the figure 8 walking pattern.
- Tape on the floor. While this suggestion provides a visual cue for the walker, there are many problems with this approach. First, it takes time for the instructor/therapist to lay the tape on the floor in a figure 8 pattern. The shape of the 8 is often lopsided and most certainly is not consistent from one walker and/or walking session to the next. Also, the tape suggests to the walker they must walk “on the tape” which is only done in a precise heel-toe walking pattern. This walking pattern is often difficult for many walkers, so one of two things may occur. One, the walker concentrates on the heel-toe pattern, becomes frustrated and quits. Two, the pace of the walk is greatly reduced. The focus becomes more on staying on the tape as opposed to completing the figure 8 walking pattern.
- Yarn or string as a substitute for the tape. The same disadvantages apply here as well; however, there are additional disadvantages with this approach. Most importantly it is that the yarn and string are not static. They tend to move as the walker steps on it, thus disrupting the flow of the walk. The walker must stop as the instructor readjusts the yarn or string.
- Chalk on the floor. Again, a heel-toe pattern is visually suggested. The disadvantage with chalk is that as the walker steps on the chalk, the chalk fades or disappears entirely.