Sensory Input, Motor Output: When we put “Garbage in” our Child’s Brain, we will surely get “Garbage Out”
This article helps parents, teachers and professionals understand the importance of sensory input, motor output needed to develop higher learning in a child’s brain. 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.
If you have ever heard of the term “garbage in, garbage out” in the technology world, you already know that the information communicated to you and me on social media, through email, presentations or even newspapers is only as good as the source from where it came from. Your child’s sensory input (used for learning in the classroom) works the same way.
A child takes in everything around them with their senses. When your child’s sensory system is working properly, their brain soaks in all of the information within their environment and the output is just as good as the input. However, if your child’s sensory system is underdeveloped or weakened, the information the brain receives or “garbage in” literally becomes “garbage” because the child physically and mentally can’t get the “garbage out” successfully in the classroom, at home and with their friends.
You can always tell the quality of the input, by the result of your child’s output!
Let’s use test-taking as an example. If a child fails to study for a test they won’t have any output because there was never any input to begin with. They never retained any facts or details from the material in their textbook so when they are faced with a multiple choice test, they don’t know which option to choose. The same applies for when a child is listening to the teacher in the classroom. If your child can’t process what the teacher is saying, the brain won’t retain any information they hear and when it comes time to complete homework or a project, they don’t remember the instructions or how to answer the questions.
With reading and spelling, your child may say the word “set” when the word is really “sent.” The brain’s input did not include an “n” so the output then became “set” instead of “sent.”
Sensory Input, Motor Output
Your child’s nervous system has three main functions. Sensory input (where your child takes in information through their senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, etc.), integration of data (where your child organizes all the information they receive), and motor output (where your child uses the information to take action: writing, speech, reading, etc.).
Because the brain is the great organizer of sensory information that enhances your child’s academic potential, if any of these functions fail to perform correctly, the entire motor output crashes or begins to show gaps in a child’s learning ability because the sensory input was never developed.
“If an action response is needed, the decision is handed over to the motor system, which is actually just a worker waiting for instructions from the administrative brain. Ideally, this action system, composed mainly of muscles, has a close enough relationship to the rest of our brain to be able to understand its orders exactly as they are intended…If it fails to understand its directions then it will do a poor job of representing our wishes.” (Sunbeck, Infinity Walk: Preparing your mind to learn!)
Here are a few areas development where you may begin to notice gaps if your child’s sensory input doesn’t match their motor output.
Coordination of Muscle Groups
The simple act of moving your hand across the page with your pencil requires coordination of your child’s shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers and hands. If your child’s hands, fingers, wrists and arm muscles are weak, writing can become difficult and even labor intensive so the child refuses to write or becomes exhausted writing just a few sentences.
Simple tasks like when your child raises their hand from their desk to ask a question or how much pressure they use to write words on the page can become difficult when these motor skills aren’t developed. The movements require different patterns of muscle activation and won’t progress if these areas are weakened.
If your child hasn’t developed their postural muscles in the body’s limbs, head and torso, the body could become tired and may collapse. This may be why you see a child or student constantly laying on their desk and they appear to have no energy for participating in class. Why does this happen? A better question to ask is what are we “feeding” our kids today that causes this undesirable result?
One answer could be video games and electronics. We all know video games and electronics are becoming more prominent and our kids are using them more often. Some children play these games for hours at a time, which prevents them from building these muscles like they do when they are outside playing. If this is the only input our children are getting on a daily basis, no wonder they don’t have any quality output in the classroom.
“Our motor nervous system, because it is largely composed of muscle, needs to be kept in good physical shape…Unfortunately, our highly technological world is constantly coming up with new ways to help us avoid using our bodies. Today, many of us have to make a special effort just to keep our bodies exercised.” (Sunbeck, Infinity Walk: Preparing your mind to learn!)
Your child’s body usually performs motor functions on a regular basis without them thinking about it (for example, walking across the room). However, if the sensory input is underdeveloped, you may notice your child’s motor output does not become automatic. That is why many children with sensory issues often have poor balance, run into furniture, have trouble with personal boundaries, fidget in their desk, can’t attend or focus and often can’t do simple tasks like tie their shoes or kick a ball.
Motor control means your child requires sensory input to accurately plan and execute movements. This applies to the lower levels of the brain all the way up to the higher levels of the brain. If the lower levels aren’t working properly, higher learning can’t progress (speech, language, handwriting, reading, math). Your child’s ability to make accurate movements that are properly timed and with the right force (proprioception) depends on the sensory input at all levels of the motor system hierarchy (as seen here).
An example of this would be with your child’s speech. If the sensory receptors in your child’s mouth have not yet been developed, the motor output causes them to have poor enunciation and pronunciation. This means their lips, tongue and jaw don’t have the muscle strength to correctly pronounce their “Rs,” “Ths,” “Gs,” and other letters.
How do we improve Sensory Input, Motor Output?
Improving your child’s muscle development through movement-based activities and rebuilding sensory-motor connections that tap into your child’s cognitive skills can be important to addressing poor sensory integration. Sensory stimulation and heavy work activities are some of the best therapies to address poor sensory integration. Activities like swinging at the park, throwing and kicking balls, balancing, using stretchy bands and mat exercises may help develop that sensory input and motor output.
If you still feel your child has not developed the necessary skills for learning readiness, there is more you can do to help.
The Integrated Movement Activity Center provides parents and therapists with step-by-step videos to strengthen all areas of the body and the brain. Parents and professionals can use the activity center to help their kids and students “awaken” the brain for higher learning development.
For more information or to enroll, click here.
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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