Postural Control: When Core Stability is Compromised, Your Child’s Learning is No Longer on Autopilot
This article provides helpful information regarding postural control. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Human autopilot is an idea I talk about all the time. I’m usually cursing it because I was on autopilot when I set my keys down so I have no idea where they are. Autopilot is when the subconscious levels of the brain run our movements. It can be frustrating when we run through a task and can’t remember any of the details of actually doing it, but this autopilot function has a very important role.
In her book, Ready Bodies Learning Minds, Athena Oden, P.T. says, “As [children] grow and develop, certain skills need to become automatic.” Different systems develop to make skills such as walking, crawling, talking and using our hands automatic to complete simple tasks. As a result, we can scratch an itch on our nose or walk across the room with very little conscious effort. This frees up the higher level thinking portions of our brain to focus on more complicated tasks like learning.
Another skill our body maintains on a subconscious level is maintaining posture. Most people can sit or stand upright without a lot of thought. It’s just something that comes naturally. But some people, especially children, don’t have the strength along their core muscles (muscles in the abdomen, back, chest and neck) to do this. For these children, something that should take no effort, becomes a laborious task that demands their attention.
How Postural Control Hurts In The Classroom
Obviously anything that demands a child’s constant attention creates problems, especially when we want their attention focused on other tasks like learning to solve math problems or reading.
Lack of Attention
One of the first things you will notice in a child with weak core muscles is a struggle to focus. As I said before, instead of posture being automatic, these children have to exert attention to sit upright in their chairs. This bogs down their higher functioning thought processes so that there’s less attention to spare. We all may be guilty of multitasking, but after a while it gets a little overwhelming. Well, these kids are constantly being forced to multitask and when they get overwhelmed, their choice comes between focus on my math worksheet or fall out of my chair. Most kids won’t pick the worksheet and some probably abandon their schoolwork and fall out of their chairs anyway.
Lack of Motivation
This constant mental exertion also takes its toll on their motivation. Normal tasks seem more like mountains so they drag their feet to get up and put their shoes on or put their belongings in their school cubbies. It may make them appear lazy or that they lack stamina (which they do). They’re likely the children you see with their upper bodies sprawled across their desks or slumped down in awkward positions at the computer or while watching T.V. This lack of motivation can carry over into solving difficult problems on their schoolwork. Why fight any uphill battle if I can avoid it?
In Sensory Integration and the Child, Jean Ayres, Ph.D says, “Postural background movements are particularly important when we work at a desk. Some schoolteachers notice that learning disabled children do not move their trunks normally as they turn their heads or move their arms to write on paper. When the child does shift his body in the chair, he sometimes falls out of his seat. If his teacher tries to help him position his body, she may notice that he feels heavy or stiff. His body does not move freely, because the parts of his brain stem that direct postural background movements are not getting well-organized proprioceptive and vestibular messages.”
Lack of Coordination
Another area that suffers from a weak core is coordination. Movement of arms and legs are supported by core muscles. As a natural consequence, weak core muscles result in uncoordinated movement of the extremities. This can result in things like clumsiness, poor handwriting or fidgeting.
Balance goes hand in hand with coordination. Take the example of the child falling out of their chair if they focus too hard on their math problem. The issues with their weak core muscles can have a root in a faulty vestibular system (the system in the brain involved with balance. Read more here). If they don’t have a good grasp on where their head and body are in relationship to the ground, they’re likely to tumble and their core muscles won’t be there to support them.
How This Happens
Lack of postural control has a number of causes. They can be as simple as lack of movement and exercise to build strength to more complicated problems like low muscle tone, underdeveloped vestibular systems, and retained reflexes such as the Tonic Labyrinthe Reflex (TLR) and Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). But no matter the cause, children with weak core muscles can all benefit from exercises to build up strength in those muscles.
Activities to improve Postural Control
There are many activities that can strengthen your child’s core muscle and postural control. Here are a few of our favorites to get you started.
The Superman exercise is one of the best for getting your child in the prone position and helps your child strengthen the core muscles in the lower back. This gives your child enough core muscle strength for better postural control in the classroom so they aren’t tempted to lie on their desks instead of concentrating on the teacher. This exercise can also be done with an exercise ball like you see here.
The crab walk is a great exercise for postural control and is always fun for the kids. Because they have to use their arms and legs to support their torso, trunk and back, it provides the support needed for sitting upright in their chair.
The wheelbarrow may be a little tough, but an overall great exercise for the entire body. It strengthens arms, legs, tummy and back as they engage their core and use all their extremities to work together at the same time. This exercise also requires your help. Have your child get on their hands and knees then take their two feet and pull them off the ground. Have their arms engage and hold the rest of their body for support. Tell your child to walk forward on their hands while you hold their feet in the air.
Bum lifts are also a great exercise for building core strength and postural control in your child’s back and torso. Have your child lie on their back, knees bent upward and arms lying beside them. Then have your child use their arms and tummy muscles to push their bum off the ground toward the air. Have them old the position for at least 10 seconds before releasing. Try completing the activity as many times as your child can handle. If your child likes heavy work for sensory issues, have them hold a weight bar, like you see here, on their hips as they lift their bum into the air.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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