Early mobility plays a crucial role in a child’s development. It not only affects their physical well-being but also has a significant impact on their cognitive, social, and emotional growth. One effective method of promoting early mobility is through gait training. In this article, we will explore the benefits of early mobility, the importance of gait training, and the implications of immobility in infants and young children.
Benefits of Independent Mobility
Independent mobility, the ability to move from one place to another without assistance, is vital for a child’s overall development. When infants begin to walk and move independently, they experience several advantages:
Improved Engagement with the Environment
Walking allows infants to be on the same plane as the rest of the world around them, enabling better interaction with people and objects in their environment. This enhanced engagement fosters cognitive development and a sense of competence and initiative in the child.
Optimal Physical Functioning
The human body is designed to be upright, and our bones, muscles, organs, and nervous system function optimally in this position. Independent mobility promotes the alignment of the hip joint and helps develop better foot and knee alignment. It also prevents contractures, improves range of motion, and decreases the effects of spasticity, resulting in overall better physical functioning.
Bone Health and Development
Weight-bearing activities, such as walking, are crucial for bone growth and development. Dynamic weight bearing, which occurs during weight shifting in gait or standing, is more effective in bone development than static loading. Regular weight-bearing activities help maintain bone density, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and prevent fractures.
Improved Organ Function
When standing, the pelvis moves into increased anterior tilt, and the spine extends, providing more space throughout the trunk cavity. This allows for improved respiratory volume, gastric and bladder emptying, decreased constipation, and better circulation.
Cognitive and Social Development
Independent mobility plays a monumental role in a child’s psychological, social, and cognitive development. Self-locomotion helps foster central nervous system maturation, self-awareness, independence from caregivers, increased social interactions, and a sense of competence and initiative.
Visual and Cognitive Benefits
Independent mobility offers various visual and cognitive benefits. Mobile infants are more aware of events in the distance, develop object-permanence-concepts, and can locate objects after being turned around. They also experience increased fear or wariness of heights, leading to a heightened sense of safety.
Implications of Immobility
In contrast, infants and young children who have restricted mobility due to neuromuscular disorders may experience several negative consequences. Developmental limitations, compensatory movement patterns, decreased stability, and muscle tone abnormalities can affect their overall physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. Immobility can lead to decreased curiosity, initiative, motivation, and a passive dependent lifestyle pattern.
Early Gait Training: Therapeutic Models
Early gait training, particularly using a gait trainer, offers numerous therapeutic benefits. Physical therapists employ various models, including the neurodevelopmental treatment (NDT) approach and the dynamic systems theory approach, to facilitate early gait training. By utilizing a gait trainer, therapists can initiate early walking, promote optimal biomechanical alignment, and facilitate functional gains in children with motor impairments.
Assistive Technology Options
Different assistive devices, such as walkers and gait trainers, can support independent mobility in children. Gait trainers provide greater support for children who cannot hold onto a walker or stand without assistance. They offer trunk, head, and limb support, enabling children with mobility impairments to engage in weight-bearing activities and dynamic walking.
Treatment Strategies and Equipment Selection
When using a gait trainer, therapists employ various treatment strategies to maximize functional outcomes. The choice of gait trainer depends on the child’s specific needs, such as the amount of support required, the positioning of limbs and head, and any contractures or tone abnormalities. A personalized approach ensures optimal biomechanical alignment, progression of motor skills, and increased independence.
Guidelines for Using a Gait Trainer
While gait trainers are valuable tools in promoting early mobility, their usage should be carefully supervised by therapists and parents. Children should be medically cleared for upright positioning and weight bearing before using a gait trainer. Parents must be adequately trained on gait trainer setup, positioning, and facilitation techniques. It is essential to strike a balance between gait trainer usage and floor play, as natural floor mobility is crucial for motor skill development. Safety precautions, such as childproofing the environment, must be taken, and the child’s well-being should be closely monitored during gait training sessions.
Early mobility and gait training are vital for a child’s overall development. Independent mobility offers numerous physical, cognitive, and social benefits, while immobility can lead to significant limitations. Gait training, facilitated by a gait trainer, helps children with mobility impairments achieve optimal physical functioning, weight bearing, and ambulation. By promoting early mobility, therapists and parents can support a child’s motor and health development, enhance their interaction with the world, and foster overall growth and independence.