ADD / ADHD, Autism, Balance & Coordination, Brain & Body, Dyslexia

How Important is Crawling as a Developmental Milestone?

There are many milestones in motor development as infants turn into toddlers but how important is crawling as milestone?

Education and developmental problems such as ADHD and dyslexia have been linked to infants not crawling or only briefly crawling before learning to walk. Key to this theory are primitive reflexes that help an infant learn to control their body but fade as the infant develops. In some children the reflexes are retained and they handicap the infant’s development just as stabilisers on a bike help a child to learn to ride but if they are left on, they hold the child back.

Proponents of primitive reflexes such as INPP and Stopping ADHD believe that the most critical milestone for motor development is crawling. As an infant learns to crawl they learn lots of new abilities such as moving the head, arms and legs independently. Once mastered, this allows the toddler free and coordinated movement. It’s thought that children who do not crawl miss out on learning this critical skill. Their movements are not coordinated and they struggle to move limbs and head independently. This can manifest itself at school when the child learns to write, a skill that involves sitting still whilst moving the arms. If a child cannot move their arms without moving their legs then they will struggle to sit still.

But is crawling such an important milestone for an infants development? Some research casts doubt on its value. One study looked at 20 children who had been bottom-shufflers or bottom-scooters; children who had pull themselves across the floor whilst sitting on their bottom. Researchers tested these children when they were between four and eight and found no evidence that they had any motor development problems.

The very notion of babies needing to crawl may be flawed. All the early work done on infant milestones was done by white western researchers who generally looked at white middle-class parents. In other cultures, it appears that crawling is not so widespread. Research into the tribes of PapuaNew Guinea found that crawling was very rare. In the first 12 months, infants are carried for 86% of the time by parents or siblings. When the infant was put down on the ground they were placed in a sitting position, not on their stomaches. Some researchers have speculated that it is only in cultures with dry and solid floors that babies are allowed to crawl. In more primitive conditions, allowing an infant to crawl across ground covered by mud and animal droppings might not be very desirable.

It is clear that crawling develops muscle strength and improves coordination in infants. What is not clear is how important crawling is as a development milestone. It could be that it is not the crawling that is important but the time spent learning how to move muscles and developing the cerebellum.

Previously on Myomancy:
How we learn to walk

Sources:
Will Baby Crawl?
Physical And Motor Development
Motor performance after bottom-shuffling in early childhood

7 Comments

  1. ML

    Might it be that failure to crawl, when the opportunity to learn is there, is a possible symptom of an already-present disruption in normal neurological development?
    ie. some neuro-typical children do not crawl, preferring other forms of locomotion, but some children who have a developmental disorder have disruptions in the normal acquisition of motor skills, which might be evidenced as a failure to learn to crawl. Therefore the lack of crawling would not be the cause, but rather an indication (when considered with other factors)of possible existing neurological dysfunction.

  2. Sheila

    My experience is that there is an association between poor bilateral movement development(crawling) and dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. The more three dimensional right brain thinker is likely to not crawl. It is not a causal relationship. But it is therapeutic to develop other areas of the brain that are less active in the 3d thinker. How do Papua New Guinea kids do in traditional school systems. About as well as our Canadian Native Indians I suspect. All 3d thinkers who I would prefer to be lost in the forest with.

  3. Tina

    Theories???
    What “research” is this?
    WHERE is the actually written information on this?
    WHO prepared this “research”?
    Sounds fishy to me.

  4. myomancy

    Tina –

    To answer your questions, follow the links marked “Sources”. These go to the actual research papers this article is based on.

    Chris

  5. frazzledazzle

    Tina, I can personally vouch for the benefits of “crawling.” I was a bottom scooter, and never crawled much. In my mid-life I discovered I still had signs and symptoms of a retained STNR, which is suppressed by crawling. Hence, I underwent the program outlined in the “Stopping ADHD” book that is mentioned above in the books section. I am not certain of the mechanics of how it all works, but, among other interesting results I obtained, the most remarkable and satisfying for me is a much improved reading comprehension and ability to stay focused on the page. I have found joy in being able to tackle some what was previously unreadable material to being able to not only read it, but digest it, think about it, and spit it back out. Whatever the mechanism that caused these results from finally getting to crawling, I am unsure. But, for me, there was something important missed or bypassed from that milestone up until my present adult life.

  6. heather

    I found this article as I was searching for any information on crawling as a necessary stage of child development. I am a nurse working in a squatter community in Ecuador, and it struck me the other day as I visited a home with a 9 month old baby who is almost ready to walk, that he has never crawled. Nor do any of the other babies that I see. The homes where these people live are tiny, have rough concrete or board floors, the streets are all mud or dust, depending on the season, so the floors are unavoidably dirty ( not to mention the chickens that roam). So these babies are never put on the floor, they are carried or held or put in walkers (!) or strollers. It hadn’t occurred to me until then, I haven’t seen a crawling baby. Is their future development being affected? Most of the kids in our school are doing fine, and I’m sure none of them crawled either.

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