Bilateral coordination, also known as bilateral integration, is the ability to coordinate and control the actions of both sides of the body at once. For example, engaging in an activity using both left and right hands together, such as cutting food with a knife and fork; or pedaling a bicycle with both feet.
While easy to take for granted, bilateral coordination may be delayed in some children, resulting in awkward and clumsy attempts to master both gross and fine motor skills. A lack of bilateral coordination for kids may indicate an issue with their vestibular processing. That is, the ability of the brain to accurately process the body's position in space, and to connect the perceptions of both side of the brain.
Recognizing Bilateral Coordination Issues in Children
Occupational therapy can help kids overcome vestibular processing issues, but it's helpful to identify problems early in a child's development. While it may take years to notice a child that experiences problems with fine motor skills, such as the ability to shoelaces or button a shirt, a problem with bilateral coordination may present earlier in a child's development of gross motor functions. These may present as an inability to climb stairs one foot at a time, or to clap both hands together.
One early way to detect a bilateral coordination deficit is to observe a child's ability to cross the midline — in other words, to reach across the body with one hand or foot to act within the space of the other. For example, using the right hand to place an object in the left hand, or sitting with one leg crossed over the other. If a child has not mastered this behavior by age three or four, it may indicate processing issues.
Developing hand dominance is another indicator of bilateral coordination. Many children begin to show a preference of one hand over the other at the age of two or three, indicating a tendency towards being right handed or left handed. If this is the case, on hand will be used as the dominant hand, while the other, helper hand, will be used in support. Think of a child holding a piece of paper with their helper hand, while the dominant hand draws. Even this simple action requires bilateral coordination, and a child who struggles to elevate one hand into a dominant role may be experiencing difficulty coordinating both hands altogether.
Treating Bilateral Coordination Issues in Children in San Diego
Occupational therapy offers a number of activities designed to establish bilateral coordination for kids experiencing developmental delays. This may include practice connecting or separating Lego toys or magnets, flattening dough with a rolling pin, rolling play dough into a ball with both hands. It might even include silly games like walking like crab or bear.
At FITS OT, trained therapists will identify the proper approach to helping children overcome vestibular processing impediments to develop coordination of hands and feet, and increased body awareness. If you know a child demonstrating a delay in bilateral coordination, contact us today for an assessment.