What’s so important about crawling?
Heather Haring, OTR/L
MedCentral Pediatric Therapy
As a mother, I remember celebrating each of my children's development milestones, from rolling over to sitting on their own to crawling and walking. After all, each stage of physical development is important... or is it?
In 1994 the American Academy of Pediatrics started to encourage parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS has decreased more than 50 percent, but according to several studies an inadvertent result of the campaign is that more children are meeting their motor milestones later or bypassing them altogether. This is because the lack of time on their bellies doesn't allow children to develop their upper bodies enough for the classic hands-and-knees crawl. Some children will only crawl for a short period of time, crawl "funny" or skip this milestone completely. The question this raises is, "Is crawling really that important?"
The answer is, "Yes." Along with strengthening the trunk, shoulders and hand muscles, the mechanics of crawling stimulate different areas of the brain that are important for future learning. When a child begins crawling, this repetitious movement helps stimulate and organize neurons, allowing her brain to control cognitive processes such as comprehension, concentration and memory. When an infant crawls, she visually determines where she wants to go and physically moves in that direction. Her hands become the guides and the child's first test of hand/eye coordination becomes established. This skill set is used later in life for reading, writing and sports activities.
Another important piece of development that occurs during the crawling stage is binocular vision. This involves training the eyes to look off into the distance and then back at the hands while crawling. Binocular vision is used when a child needs to copy something from a blackboard at school. Crawling is also a cross lateral movement that strengthens both the left and right side of the brain, allowing increased communication between the two sides of the brain and enhancing learning.
There is an interesting theory about a link between lack of crawling and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It all has to do with a reflex we are born with called the "symmetric tonic neck reflex" (STNR). This reflex helps us operate our upper and lower body independently. Usually this reflex is inhibited, or matures, between nine and twelve months. When a child gains independent control of his or her neck, arms and legs, the STNR is matured. This can be achieved through alternate hands and knees crawling for at least six months. When this reflex does not integrate, some of the symptoms are:
The book "Stopping ADHD" cites a study by Dr. Miriam Bender that found that at least 75 percent of the learning-disabled people surveyed had an immature symmetric tonic neck reflex contributing to their disability.
Children will crawl when they are ready, but parents can make things more enticing. Clearing large spaces for mobility practice, keeping floors and carpets clean for the little ones and safeguarding against sharp corners or other hazards will all help babies stay safe as they navigate with their new skills. Some ways to encourage your child to crawl are to:
Above all, make it fun! Not all children who do not crawl or only crawl for a short amount of time are going to have difficulties with learning and integrating their reflexes. However, based on all of the benefits that hands-and-knees crawling provide, it makes sense to encourage it.