Bilateral Integration is one of these key developmental areas that we need to understand. We need to be able to identify the symptoms and behaviours that show us that a child is struggling to develop his bilateral integration.
So, what is bilateral integration? The term “bilateral integration” really means exactly what it says: integration of two sides. Our brains comprise two sides, or “hemispheres” they are connected by a kind of bridge of neural tissue called the Corpus Callosum which has to send messages from one to the other, ensuring that they work together as a team. Bilateral integration is essential because the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of our body, while the right hemisphere controls the left side of our body.
You can see now that even walking needs close communication between both hemispheres. Balance in standing, walking or even sitting needs the muscles on both sides of the body to interact so that their movements complement each other and you don’t get one side pulling too strongly. Bilateral integration is part of normal development. When babies begin to wriggle and move in the womb, they are already beginning to develop their bilateral integration. But there can be times when it seems to stall. If you see your baby “bum-shuffle” instead of crawling correctly, he may be struggling with his bilateral integration. When he crawls correctly, he is reinforcing and improving his bilateral integration.
If we don’t have good bilateral integration for our movements, writing becomes arduous because sitting posture and stability will be affected. As we move our hand across the page, we need to make small postural muscle changes to keep our body still and stable.
Bilateral integration also affects our vision and how we see the world. The right side of the visual field sends its neural messages to the left visual cortex in the brain, while the left side of our visual field is perceived and interpreted by the right visual cortex. This is when you see children who twist and turn as their work crosses the page: they are trying to keep the work in one visual field only so that they do not have to rely on their under-performing bilateral integration. Some children start writing far from the left hand margin or stop writing shortly
after they get to the midline of the page. This too is a sign of under-developed bilateral integration.
In fact, even eye control needs well-developed bilateral integration. We have tiny muscles behind our eye-balls that control their movement. Each eye has its own set of tiny muscles and because each eye is on the opposite side of the body from the other, the two hemispheres have to communicate very closely to ensure that both eyes move together. If your child has signs of a “lazy eye” which seems to move less efficiently it is essential that you have him assessed
by a developmental ophthalmologist as soon as possible. If both eyes do not work together efficiently and our brain receives conflicting images, the brain decides to shut down the neural feed from one eye. This can cause permanent visual loss if not corrected early.
Bilateral integration is also important for learning phonics, spelling and reading. Not only do we need bilateral integration to control both eyes and then to combine the pictures from the left and right visual fields; but the part of our brain which interprets visual cues, such as shape and size of objects is on the right of our brain, while the left hemisphere interprets sounds and
auditory stimuli. When we learn phonics, spelling and reading, we need to recognise the shape and direction of letters and we must notice how close or far apart they are to know if they are
part of one word or separate words. This is all done by the right hemisphere. We need to immediately identify the auditory stimulus that the letters and the words represent and this is done in the left hemisphere. The Corpus Callosum needs to be quick and efficient in sending its messages through. We have to have good bilateral integration.
Knowing the signs and getting early help for children who are struggling to develop efficient bilateral integration, gives each child the chance to develop to their best potential.
CLICK HERE TO SEE A READING PROGRAMME THAT INCLUDES BILATERAL INTEGRATION WHEN TEACHING READING.