Sneaky…Sidewinders…Stealth Do-Gooders, we special needs caregivers know who we are.
We slip supplements in our child’s smoothie on the sly. We act like dumb bunnies so they can polish their social pragmatic skills as they explain the art of Uno, or we pretend we’re at a loss for what to do next so they can test-run their planning abilities. I know, it takes one to know one.
So how about adding some subtle cross-body exercises to your toolkit? Occupational therapists do them with our kids all the time, and we can do some of them too, FOR FREE!
Cross-body movements happen when you move your arms and/or legs across the imaginary vertical line running down the center of your body.
When we cross our midline intentionally through exercise, we engage both sides of the brain simultaneously. When both sides of the brain are activated, they communicate with each other as they work together. This can lead to more coordination between the two brain hemispheres and more coordination in the body.
Babies practice cross-body coordination by crawling. It’s a building block of walking, eye-teaming, and later, reading and writing. If you ask an 8-month-old why she crawls, she’ll say “Sashee-watchee–kwak–kwak,” but really she is exercising to grow and integrate her brain and nervous system. She is also building up her core strength.
For a lot of our kids, this cross-body coordination doesn’t come easy. There can be issues with balance, core muscle strength, body awareness, reading, and writing. The more consistent exercise they can get crossing their midline, the better.
Here are some easy midline-crossing exercises (imperfectly demoed below) you can do almost anywhere:
Standing Cross-Crawl. Do these s-l-o-w-l-y so that most of the time you are balancing on one foot.
Cross-body exercises also relieve anxiety, increase focus, and support a sense of calm. As a stressed special needs caregiver, I was glad to find that these exercises could help both of us.
I’ve given this one a try when I’m about to have my own melt-down. Just a quick cross-body “hook up” I found in the book “Educate Your Brain.”
We also love these morning exercises with Moe Jones, where he crosses the midline plenty. He’s a very welcoming, daddy-like, and calming presence. One repetition of his workout routine takes only 5 minutes.
My goal is that we do these exercises just 3, 5, possibly 10 minutes a day to help with reading, writing, and having a general sense of centeredness and peace. Just another something for the toolbox. There’s always room for one more!
References: Mayo Clinic, wholebrainliving.com, “Educate Your Brain” by Kathy Brown