The Importance of Repetition
Practice makes perfect! This is critical to learning for anyone because repetition creates and strengthens neural connections in the brain. Provide plenty opportunities (thousands and thousands) for the learner to practice a skill so that it becomes part of the individual’s personality. The more “automatic” a skill becomes the less energy it takes for the learner to use that skill and the more likely he/she will use it in many different situations and environments.
Remember the learner must initiate the movement. Co-active movement with the adult may not accomplish the same growth of skills. Let the child have time to process what they are learning from their movement; this may look like the child is taking a short break. They will generally go back to their activity if you give them some time. If they do not return to the activity, the child may be in Stage 3 of the Dynamic Learning Circle and need some novelty added to their play.
Give the learner opportunities to practice a particular skill with a variety of materials. You should have multiples of objects and varieties of the same object to allow the child to generalize learning. Children learn at different rates; some children may take much longer than others to make a skill something that can be automatic.
RJ and the Mini Massager
In this video we see RJ interacting with a mini massager that is being held in one place so that he has the opportunity to repeatedly explore the massager. RJ is unable to grasp and hold onto an object. He has difficulty moving his hands and arms. In this video you will see him first push on the massager, then his thumb and finger begin to open up allowing him to briefly grasp the massager. It is important to point out that RJ can move his head and mouth, an areas of strength for him.
While he needs continued opportunities to practice moving these parts of his body, he also needs opportunities to address areas of weakness, such as difficulty moving his arms and hands. In both cases he needs many, many opportunities to repeat the movements before they will become incorporated into his personality and used automatically. For many children with motor challenges, this may take months or years. We have to learn to be patient and allow that child the time to practice these movements again and again throughout the day. So not only should he practice grasping the mini massager, but also have access to grasping in a Little Room, use a Scratch and Position Board, and try to grasp in a variety of positions – prone, supine, in supported sitting, etc.
Jack in the Little Room
As we mentioned there are a variety of environments that allow a child to repeat movements such as grasping. The Little Room is one of these environments. This environment allows Jack to grasp an object and let go, then return to the same object in the same location to repeat the movement. You will note that Jack will pause periodically, then start moving again. It is important not to interrupt during these pauses or prematurely remove the child from the environment. Short breaks are normal and necessary; this is when he processes what he has done and what effect it had. There will be time to discuss his actions later, but when he is in the Little Room this is a time of independent play and should not be interrupted.
Jevarias and the Rain Sticks
Jevarias is working on wrist rotation in this video as he plays with his Music Therapist, Karen. Jevarias prefers to play with beads, so staff are using an object that has a feature similar to the beads in that they make a similar sound. Jevarias practices moving the Rain Sticks again and again. One note, it is important to have multiples of objects so that if a child throws the objects you can quickly provide another object. This also allows the adult who is interacting with the child to imitate the child’s movement.
DJ’s Progress Through Repetition
In these series of video clips we see the progress DJ makes in learning to use his legs with the goal of becoming independent in standing and walking. First we see him in a HOPSA Dress where the goal is for him to independently move arms and legs in an upright position. Five months later, more things are placed on the ground under his feet. He is still making the same movements with his arms and legs, but he appears to have figured out how to move a distance of several feet. He has better head control as well, but he is still unable to sit independently without supports. He is unable to crawl. Four years after, we see him wearing shoes and moving around a table while playing with toys. At this point he is not standing independently but he has developed the leg strength, control of his head and torso, and better balance that in time will lead him to be able to stand. Progress may come slowly for these children who have so many physical challenges, but they can make progress.