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The nervous system has aspects of plasticity. As the nervous system develops a balance between gross motor activities, neural patterning occurs. Each movement and transitional phase (body posturing between movements such as crawling or sitting) helps mold the nervous system in its development. The patterning that occurs is specific to each child’s own development, and the transitional phases between each movement are often more important than the final outcome (for example, sitting or standing).
Education psychologist Carl Delacato’s early developmental hypothesis suggested that “normal” children go through five stages of development, beginning with the lower spinal cord and medulla oblongata reflexes, which are present at birth to approximately 16 weeks. Next, homolateral function of the visual and auditory mechanisms develops during the pons level at 16 weeks to six months. Then, from six months to one year, the mid-brain develops, providing the cross-pattern mechanism and using both sides of the body together. This is an important area of development, which prepares the child to function in an upright position. Early cortical function develops in the age range of 1 to 5 years. During this stage, there is continued bilateral development, and walking begins. Finally, from the ages of 3 to 8, cortical hemispheric dominance develops, giving right- or left-handedness and continued neurologic organization.
Dr. David Walther, a chiropractic writer and researcher who practiced applied kinesiology, maintained, “There is a tendency for adults to force a child to develop too rapidly. The speed of development through these early years is already a marvelous accomplishment. The reason for the parents’ effort to speed the process even more is probably the desire to have a ‘smart, accomplished’ child. Ironically, forcing new activities for which the child is not neurologically prepared disturbs organization, and in many instances may actually cause the child to eventually be inefficiently integrated.”
Magda Gerber, of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) in Los Angeles, conducted research along the same lines as the work of Delacato and Walther. Gerber began her studies with Dr. Emmi Pikler, pediatrician and professor at the National Methodological Institute for Infant Care and Education in Budapest, Hungary.
In The RIE Manual, Gerber wrote that, “Dr. Pikler is well-known in Europe for her original ideas on infant rearing. After receiving her medical degree in Vienna, she developed what was to become her life-long interest in the physiology in gross motor development. Her research focused on the differences in gross motor development of normal children under two different conditions: 1) when motor development is influenced by adult intervention (positioning, exercising, restricting) and 2) when motor development naturally occurs without adult intervention. Due to findings of her research Dr. Pikler became an advocate of ‘non-interference’ —letting the infant develop at his own rate. She suggested that by allowing the child freedom of movement, parents would develop respect for their baby’s individual tempo and style in other areas of development as well.”
Pikler emphasizes, “The Institute withholds ‘teaching’ in any form. Under ‘teaching’ we understand systematic practice of certain motor skills by holding or keeping the child in a certain position, whether by adult or by equipment, or in any way helping him to make movements that he is not yet able to execute by himself in his daily life. Spontaneous, self-initiated activities by the infant have an essential value for his physical and mental development in that the pleasure evolving from exploration and mastery is self-reinforcing. Subsequently, the infant becomes intrinsically motivated to learn.” At RIE in Los Angeles, Magda Gerber stressed the importance of allowing the child to develop without interference. She believed that intervention creates a child less motivated to be inner directed, and can directly or indirectly affect the child’s self esteem negatively.