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Crossing the Midline

As as school psychologist, I regularly encounter information shared with parents and educators that makes makes me raise an eyebrow.  As soon as I started working in schools, I quickly found that teachers aren't sharing information which is completely accurate, and sometimes may even be harmful to students.  As a professional, I know that addressing some of these misconceptions in front of an IEP team is not always a wise choice.  Taking time to do some research, find evidence to support (or refute) a claim, and then present that information to another professional at a later time is a much better idea.

During my first year of practice, I began to hear of the Bal-A-Vis-X method. This program, as I understood it at the time, was designed to help students increase their potential for learning by engaging multiple physical activities at once.  The idea was that if a person's body was engaged in physical activity, their brain activity would be elevated and therefore more prepared to learn new information or recall encoded material.  I later began to hear about a related concept of "crossing the midline."  This idea stated that students will be able to learn better by using their left hand on the right side of their body, for example.  A similar theory was applied; by using both sides of the brain (for motor control), it would allow the child to utilize both sides of their brain at the same time. 

I began to ask myself, if these programs were research-supported, why wasn't I taught about them during my seven years of higher education?  Why had I not heard about these programs at any special education conference, professional journal, or educational email digest?  Was there programs nothing more than hogwash, pop-psychology, and pseudo-science?  I don't necessarily feel that it's wrong to use a program without research to back up its effectiveness, but I certainly don't think we should promote those programs as being effecive unless the research concurs.  As long as it's not harming students, I probably won't raise any red flags.  However, it is my role to make sure that we don't mislead parents or students by advocating that our programs

I was ready to find out for myself and publish my findings online for anyone else who may encounter similar programs, practices, or beliefs in their schools.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest you review my findings on other educational myths and misconceptions on other pages of this site.  Specifically, I have addressed the "gift of time" (retention) as well as multiple intelligences before.  I also hope to someday do some research on weighted vests, "fidget toys", and further research on learning styles.  But now, let's focus on crossing the midline.

The Bal-A-Vis-X website posts its own research page, but you won't find any gold-standard studies here.  As with any intervention program, I'd caution you against using research posted on the company's website.  Obviously, no company would want to post research with refutes their claims.  The "research" (and I use the term looselyz0 here supports the effectiveness of Bal-A-Vis-X. The "research" is little more than a handful of kindergarten students and teachers who wrote anecdotal commentary about how keeping kids active improved their academics.  No doubt, activity is good for students.  I do have doubt that it was the Bal-A-Vis-X method specifically which produced the results.  My hypothesis is that the same amount of time given to playing basketball or other physical activity within the classroom would also increase students' socialization, self-esteem, and general academic performance.  Go ahead, prove me wrong.

Side note, the Bal-A-Vis-X method appears to follow in line with Brain Gym, a similar product marketed under the premise that bodily movements increase children's likelihood of learning.  Like Bal-A-Vis-X, it's easy to poke holes in the "research" (again, the term is used loosely) behind Brain Gym.  As of writing this post (March 2015), it appears as though the Brain Gym website hasn't been updated in four years, which may be an indication that the program is loosing its footing among educators. You can find a neuropsychologist's negative review of Brain Gym's claims here.  I did find this great peer-reviewed journal article [login to ProQuest required; see reference below] which further criticizes Brain Gym and those who blindly buy into their unsupported claims.

While writing this post, I came across this similar post from Musikinesis.com, which shares both my doubts about Bal-A-Vis-X and my general belief that it's okay to use a program as long as it doesn't hurt kids.  It's just important that we don't tout the research effectiveness of such programs when the research to support them is substandard.

But, back to the purpose of this page, information about crossing the midline.  I need to be clear here, I am not advocating that students should not learn how to use their left hand on the right side of their body.  In fact, my occupational therapist colleagues who work in schools with me would likely tell you that this is a fundamental concept they hope that all students will master.  I am saying that the lack of this skill indicates that students will learn at a lesser rate than those who do not have this skill.  In fact, I'm really advocating that the opposite is likely true; there is no correlation that training in midling crossing activities increases students' abilities to learn or recall information.  Without evidence so support such claims, it is therefor unethical to report to parents that these activities will increase their child's academic performance.

If you get the urge to review these topics on your own (I hope you will), I bet that you'll find lots of anecdotal information regarding the effectiveness (or importance) of midline crossing in children's development. You'll probably run across blogs from occupational therapists, music therapists, homeschooling organizations, and other teachers who all believe that these methods help kids learn.  You'll probably also find people (or organizations) who will offer to provide training for perceptual motor integration techniques which will supposedly increase your child's potential for learning and/or increase their attention. I challenge you to find peer-reviewed research that actually proves any of these claims. 

Again, I have no issue with promoting the idea that getting kids to be active helps promote learning.  You bet it does.  What I do take issue with is promoting the idea that a particular program (such as Bal-A-Vis-X) or midline crossing activity helps kids to read better than those kids who don't engage in those tasks.  Movement is good for children, and it's an important piece of children's development.  Just don't make claims that these programs develop brain connections which strengthen your child's ability to learn. 

References:

Hyatt, K. J. (2007). Brain gym®: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking? Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/236333656?accountid=13211


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