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Symmetry - why does it matter?

Every single time I do an assessment I start with the same thing - looking at body symmetry. This means I check to see if a child can move their limbs and trunk in the same way, for equal distance on both sides. For example can a child lift their right and left arm up in the air to the same height or can they rotate their trunk equally to the left and the right.


Why is this important?


In order to understand symmetry we need to know that the brain is split into two halves. The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body.




When babies are born they have billions of neurons but most of them are not connected. During the first 3 years of life the neural connections happen at 1 million connections per second! Babies brains are amazing.


Part of those connections is for the brain to map out where the body is. So when a child begins to move they are sending messages to their brain to map out in the brain where the limbs are, where the trunk is etc. This is why you see babies 'discover' their hands, they stare at them as if they don't know what they are. The reality is they don't! They are learning what the hand is, how it is connected to the body and what they can do with it.


Now in order to map out the body efficiently a child needs to have equal access to both sides of the body. Having equal access develops a firm sense of midline, proprioception and the ability to move well in all directions and planes of movement.


What happens when a child is not symmetrical?

Asymmetry can affect the body in many different ways.


  • A baby can develop torticollis or a head tilt - likely coming from a trunk asymmetry.

  • A baby may only roll in one direction.

  • A baby who only bum shuffles and doesn't learn to crawl.

  • A baby who loves to sit but can't get into or out of sitting.

  • For older children they can have difficulty crossing midline.

  • Poor posture - they may be slumped over to one side.

  • Difficulty with tasks that require coordination like riding a bike.

  • Poor balance, bumping into things and falling over a lot.


HOW DO i ENCOURAGE SYMMETRY

Sometimes asymmetry can come from the position baby was squished up in the womb. Being squished up in the womb is a good thing but once baby is born they need to work out all those kinks and restrictions and the best way to do that is lots of floor time.


When playing with your child try to make sure you put toys to both sides and encourage them to reach across their body and round to one side.


With toddlers and older children I like to play a high 5 game, where I shake one hand and ask for a high 5 with the other. Then I can move my hand where ever I need to - to the left, right, high, down low getting the child to move round to both sides and up and down.


Lots and lots of free play. Children will move their bodies best when they are absorbed in their own world of free play.



How do I know if my child is symmetrical?

Children and babies are experts at compensating and a lot of the time its difficult to tell if your child doesn't have equal access to both sides of their body. Here are a few things to look for


  • In babies hold them on your lap and test if you can bring the left elbow to the right knee and vice versa. Look to see if the elbow can reach the knee and for any differences between right and left.

  • Test the same way with an older child - can they bring their right elbow to the left knee and vice versa?

  • Observe your child playing on the floor and put toys to both sides. Can they turn their upper body to the right and left to get the toys or do they move their whole body?

  • Can they side sit with their legs to the right and the left comfortably?

If you have found that your child doesn't have equal access and it is affecting their gross motor skills and development, then there are interventions that can help. It is not something to panic about, the important thing is now you have found one of the building blocks of gross motor development needs some help. Physiotherapy can work out trunk restrictions and help the body to have more movement and get equal access to both sides of the body.


TAKEAWAY


  • Give babies and children lots of time and space for free play to work out any restrictions.

  • Equal access is important for brain development and body awareness.

  • Asymmetry can affect the body in many ways, observe your child playing to see if they are symmetrical.

  • Physiotherapy can help a child develop equal access to both sides of their body.



If you have concerns about your child's gross motor development please get in touch. When it comes to development its always better to be proactive than to wait and see... you might regret waiting but you won't regret getting help for your child if its needed.



MOVE WELL PLAY WELL


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