Sophie Thwaites is a specialist Occupational Therapist, who typically works with children aged between 8-12 years old, who are struggling to read, write, sit still and coordinate their body. She helps to find the source of their challenges and permanently reduce them; ultimately allowing them to unlock their potential, enjoy learning, and grow in confidence.
Understanding how the first few years of life can impact how we learn later in life
Our first language as babies is movement. Every single movement that we make and all those milestones that we reach as babies have an impact on how we learn, how we coordinate our body, how we communicate, how we interact with our environment, and how we show up as adults.
The first few years of a child’s life (starting from conception) play a vital role in creating and establishing a solid foundation for further development. Essential brain pathways are created during these first few years, but if not correctly formed at the right time or in the right order, can significantly impact a child’s development. This can lead to later challenges around how they learn, how they co-ordinate their body, how they interact with their environment, and how shy, anxious or confident they are.
Does this sound familiar? Does this sound like your child? Were there complications during pregnancy and/or birth? Was your child delayed in one or more of their developmental milestones within their first year of life? If you have answered yes to one or more of these, don’t worry. There is a solution.
If for any reason, these brain and body connections are not made during this period, we can actually create them later in life through specific movement programmes, ensuring that the child develops these strong foundations – crucial for all areas of life. Before I briefly cover the theory behind this, let me first start with my story.
When I was sixteen I moved to a new boarding school and it was the first time I was living away from my family. This new school was significantly larger than my previous one, with bigger classes, greater competition amongst pupils and less available support. I had always enjoyed my time in my previous school and was one of the top achieving pupils in the class. If school work was ever a challenge, there were always teachers on hand to offer guidance and support. However, moving to the larger school, I felt weighed down by the pressures of school work. The average level of intelligence had suddenly increased and the amount of support I received from teachers was reduced. My confidence took a significant knock, affecting my work and friendships. I was no longer the bubbly, confident child I had been. Instead, I became reclusive and wanted to shy away from the world.
Within the first year of being at my new school, I was diagnosed with dyspraxia and dyslexia and was offered additional support. I received help with my essay writing, was taught tools to help me understand and retain information, and was provided with colour overlays to ease reading. But I didn’t feel like these were helping, and instead felt like the gap between me and my peers was widening.
Fortunately, a staff member at the school had recently completed some training, which focused on movement-based exercises to help children overcome a range of challenges, including writing, co-ordination, and concentration – my key difficulties. She assessed my suitability to the programme and I was soon set up on a 12-month programme. I was required to do a specific set of exercises, which mirrored early movements carried out as a baby, for 5-10 minutes every day, which changed every few weeks.
The changes I experienced over the course of the year were gradual; but after my family and I compared who I was before the 12 months to after, we realised the changes were astonishing. My grades had improved, my handwriting was a lot neater, my ability to concentrate and retain information was better, and my general co-ordination and balance had improved.
The theory behind these transformational exercises lies with primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes are a group of motor reflexes found in new-born babies. These develop within the womb and are essential in the birthing process, as they help the new-born take its first breath and support its early survival. They instinctively enable us to perform certain tasks such as feeding, grasping, responding to danger, lifting our head, rolling, crawling, standing, and eventually walking.
All being well, the primitive reflexes should be fully inhibited and integrated within the body, by the age of 1. If these reflexes are not suppressed in the first year, they can interfere with subsequent motor development, visual functioning (needed for reading), hand-eye co-ordination (needed for writing), and perceptual skills.
While there can be many social and educational factors for specific learning difficulties, physical abilities underpin every aspect of learning and social interaction. When these challenges are corrected, children can start to not only achieve but thrive.
Over the years I have witnessed incredible transformations and long-lasting changes in every child I have worked with; including confidence growth, improved writing, easier reading, and better co-ordination. The programme is simple, yet amazingly powerful. It works from the source of the challenges, creating a more solid foundation, from which everything else falls into place.
If you are curious to learn more about the bespoke programmes I run and how they could help your child on a much deeper level for long-lasting changes, please feel free to get in touch.