The last few weeks my 8-year-old granddaughter has been practicing standing on her hands with a great deal of persistence and many, many,many repetitions, Yesterday, for the first time she managed to get both her legs up to perform a perfect handstand. This seems to have been a balance and coordination breakthrough because she also developed the courage and trust in her own abilities to swing her legs up a little harder to stand against the wall and stay standing on her hands for 30 seconds.
My granddaughter has some coordination difficulties, is not as good as her peers at swimming or ball skills and feels this quite keenly. Together we have worked on her ball skills, but she has not been particularly interested in putting in the effort to make a real difference.
Watching her practicing her handstands and struggling to get it right has been a bit frustrating for me because she has not allowed me to interfere in any way. I felt that a little bit of guided practice would speed up the process, but she resisted my attempts. So I backed off and became an appreciative audience.
Due to intensive early intervention my granddaughter's movements difficulties are relatively mild at this stage and she has the confidence to persist in working at a task when she wants to achieve a highly prized goal.
As a physical therapist I know that all children, not matter how severe their movement difficulties are able to improve with practice when the goal is desired and achievable. The secret lies with repeated and persistent guided practice, working towards successively more difficult goals.
Some of the best evidence for the power of persistent practice come from the success of constraint therapy in improving hand use in young children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy (CP). In children with hemiplegic CP the movement of one arm and leg is affected due brain damage that occurred either before or at birth. A child with hemiplegic CP has difficulties with opening and closing the hands for grasping and manipulating objects.
In constraint therapy the more affected hand is placed in some form of restraint for several hours a day. This means that the child is forced to use the more affected hand to get things done. Research has shown that this forced use of the affected hand improves the child's hand function significantly. (Read more about constraint therapy)
Watch this video clip to see constraint therapy and guided practice in action
The persistent practice magic bullet
Roan's success with handstands and the proven benefits of constrain therapy both reinforce the message that, for children with movement difficulties, you cannot wave a magic wand to make it all better, but you can deploy the persistent practice magic bullet.