Bilateral Integration

Chances are if you’ve seen any of my other posts you will have heard me talk about Bilateral Integration – well today I will try layout what I mean by this and just why it is so important and some suggestions you can try to do at home to improve this skill.

What is Bilateral Integration?

Very simply bilateral integration is the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time. Sounds easy but for some children this is an extreme challenge and it is important to try develope this skill.

Why is it important?

It is important because so many movements, skills and actions require the use of both sides of our body to work together in order to able perform everyday tasks successfully, including walking, cutting, catching balls, playing and skills including self-feeding, handwriting, self-dressing, personal hygiene and many more. 

A child who is delayed in developing bilateral coordination skills may prefer to use one hand alone rather than both hands together and may appear awkward or clumsy in some gross and fine motor activities.

Studies have also found that there is a link between bilateral motor skills and academic performance. Some researchers suggest that coordination exercises may stimulate the parts of the brain that are needed for thinking and for paying attention.

Some Gross Motor Activities That Use Bilateral Coordination include

  • Jumping and skipping
  • Riding a bike
  • Catching a ball
  • Swimming
  • Beating a drum
  • Pushing/pulling activities
  • Sports

Some Fine Motor Activities That Use Bilateral Coordination include

  • Tying shoelaces
  • Threading beads
  • Using a knife and fork
  • Cutting with scissors
  • Doing buttons
  • Lacing activities
  • Using a ruler to draw a line

In more detail

Bilateral coordination can be broken down to 3 parts

  1. symmetrical
  2. reciprocal
  3. asymmetrical movements.(Dominant and Non Dominant Hand Use)

Symmetrical movements are when both hands and/or feet are performing the same motion. Examples include clapping, pull apart toys, and jumping. Both sides of the body are working together to perform the same motion.

Reciprocal movements include when the body differentiates both sides of the body using a rhythmical motion. This includes crawling, walking, riding a bike, and swimming.

Dominant/Non dominant Hand Use (Asymmetrical movements) are very similar to reciprocal movements meaning both sides of the body are working together but both sides are performing separate tasks with one side leading and the other side supporting/assisting. This can be seen more so when performing activities using both your hands. For example, cutting paper, sewing, playing a musical instrument, and tying shoes are all great examples which demonstrate the importance of both hands working together -but each performing specialized sequences to complete the activity.

How do I start?

When performing bilateral activities, always start with symmetrical movements since they are easier, and your child will have to master symmetrical skills before performing more complex activities. Children will develop these skills at different ages and stages but remember always to try incorporate therapy ideas into fun activities!

The Vestibular System and Bilateral Integration

The vestibular system (which is situated in the inner ear and helps the brain to process movement information) plays a vital role in a child’s physical development.

Children who struggle to process movement information from their vestibular systems may also struggle with bilateral integration.

Some Activities to help with Bilateral Integration:

Symmetrical movements

  • holding a squeezey bottle filled with paint use both hands at the mid line to paint a beautiful picture
  • Jumping Jacks – maybe include these in Simon Says or a dice game etc.
  • Catching a ball with two hands – start with bigger balls and get smaller and smaller as the skills develop.
  • Blow bubbles and reach with both hands to pop them, start by clapping them together.
  • Pull cotton wool balls apart, glue on paper to make a picture
  • Tear strips of paper, paste on paper to make a collage
  • Squeeze, push and pull on clay, putty, play dough or modeling foam or stretch toys.
  •  Pull apart construction toys (Duplos, Legos) with both hands
  • Roll play dough, putty or clay with rolling pins
  • Percussion toys: symbols, drums (both hands together), etc.
  • Play with a toy Accordion Pull apart and push together crinkle tubes
  • Play Penny flipping: line up a row of pennies, start flipping with each hand at the far end until they meet in the middle Penny flipping: line up in an oval, start at the top with both hands and flip pennies simultaneously until hands meet at the bottom
  • Skipping rope games
  • Ball play: throw and catch with both hands together Finger painting Bounce a large ball with 2 hands, throw or push a ball with 2 hands

Alternating Movements

  • Drum or Bongos: with both hands one at a time (reciprocally); try to imitate a rhythm
  • Ride a tricycle or bicycle
  • Air biking: while on your back, raise your feet up toward the ceiling and pretend you’re pedalling a bike
  • Walking, running, skipping, swimming
  • Play follow the leader hopping on one foot, then the other; then 2 to 3 times on each foot, alternate repetitions and feet; add arm motions to increase the challenge
  • Juggle scarves
  • Marching

Dominant hand/Non-dominant hand

  • Threading
  • Lacing cards
  • Colouring
  • Writing
  • Tying shoes
  • Cut out all types of things with scissors: cut straws and then string up pieces for jewelry, cut play doh or putty, cut up greeting cards and make a collage, cut styrofoam packing
  •  Spread jam/butter, or any spread on crackers, bread; be sure to hold the cracker or sandwich with one hand whicle the other spreads
  • String beads to make jewelry

Remember to have fun with these and let me know if you find a new and interesting way to develop your child’s Bilateral Skills.

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