Using Gravity to Facilitate Sensory Motor Development in Infants and Children

By Eileen Richter, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA
Presented by Sensory Tools


Reflex integration and antigravity sensory motor development go hand in hand

Gravity influences infant development in many ways, from triggering vestibular processing to developing and strengthening muscles. Due to a number of factors, including improper positioning, lack of typical sensory motor opportunities, other environmental factors, and/or diagnoses of failure to thrive, autism, sensory processing disorders, etc., many of today's children are delayed in their sensory motor development when compared with past generations. These delays are particularly apparent in lack of core strength, proximal stability, and upper extremity coordination.

Along with other treatment strategies, gravity can be used by therapists to enhance development, especially in the areas of sensory motor processing, reflex integration and motor coordination. A variety of intervention strategies that engage vestibular mechanisms and take advantage of gravitational influences, including some innovative equipment, will be discussed and demonstrated via labs and video of children. 

Objectives: following the course, participants will be able to

  1. Discuss the role that gravity plays in typical infant development.
  2. List the ways that positioning and other environmental influences can obstruct or enhance sensory motor development.
  3. Demonstrate at least 3-4 strategies to facilitate reflex integration and sensory motor development.
  4. Describe the importance of multidimensional treatment.

About Eileen Richter

"I've always felt knowledge is important and pediatric occupational therapists and other professionals working with children provide better intervention with more knowledge. Knowledge is also powerful and the more we share it, the more others are empowered and effective. Connections are catalytic. Interactions with others stimulate our thoughts and actions in new and creative ways. I've been engaged in bringing people together to share knowledge for over 30 years and have watched them, the profession of occupational therapy and myself grow as a result. This, of course, has meant enormous improvement in services to children. When it comes to learning and sharing, there is still much to be done. Let's do it."
  • Thirty + years working in public schools, hospitals & private practice.
  • Master of Public Health degree in Maternal & Child Health
  • Co-author of 3 books, a DVD, a research article and newsletter articles.
  • International lecturer, equipment designer, Camp Avanti Co-Director

About This Course

This popular live course has been converted to an on-line format by request. The participant labs have been converted to demonstrations for viewers to follow and try themselves, along with analysis and discussion of therapeutic aspects of the lab activities. This feature provides more in-depth consideration than is available in the live version of the course.

Here's a brief outline of what to expect:

Module 1 - Introduction

Using a lecture format with slides and video, the role of gravity in human development and function is discussed. We’ll look at the purpose of reflex patterns and how they support our sensory motor progression from fetal development to upright posture and locomotion. This overview will include the ways reflexes influence sensory processing, muscle development, complex motor coordination and maturation of the brain.

Module 2 - Indicators

Module 2 describes the common barriers to antigravity development and the impact lack of antigravity integration on human behavior and performance from infancy through adulthood. Viewers will learn the indicators of poor antigravity development in the areas of sensory processing and modulation, sensory motor, and psycho-social function throughout the age span.

Module 3 - Basic Elements

We will begin our consideration of intervention strategies, by outlining the basic elements necessary to facilitate antigravity activation in infants and young children. The strategies will emphasize the areas of sensory input (vestibular, tactile and proprioceptive), motor responses and rhythmicity and include some demonstration.

Module 4 - Lab #1

The “Lab” modules are designed to encourage viewer participation. The module will include demonstrations of the activities; discussion of the therapeutic objectives and the value of the activities along with consideration of the treatment activities for adaption. Many examples of the activities with children are included. Module 4 Lab #1 focuses specifically on floor activities in prone.

Module 4 (continued) - Lab #2

Viewers will receive copies of all the activities that will be demonstrated and many more. Lab #2 specifically focuses on floor activities in supine and rolling. Rolling is a powerful activity for vestibular activation.

Module 5 - Clinical Reasoning 

Deciding where to start in treatment and how to proceed can be very challenging considering the wide range of children’s needs with respect to sensory processing/sensory motor dysfunction. In this module we will discuss the neurobiological foundations for intervention; some important principles for therapeutic interaction; and recommendations for sequencing of strategies in treatment.

Module 6 - Lab #3

We’re back to more participant lab activities. In this case, we will focus on creeping on all fours. After demonstrations (and viewer experience with the activities), we’ll discuss the significance of this experience for antigravity development and future core and upper extremity function.

Module 6 (continued) - Lab #4

Activities in sitting will be our first activity focus upright against gravity. We will experience and consider ways to challenge gravity from this position to facilitate core strength and balance reactions. We will conclude the course with a summation of the physics of antigravity work and how to use it to support children who have not established good antigravity integration.

Course curriculum

  • 1

    Welcome

    • Welcome to Gravity ONLINE

  • 2

    Module 1 - Introduction

    • About This Module

    • Appendix

    • Lab Worksheets

    • Handout for Module 1

    • Introduction (part 1)

    • Introduction (part 2)

  • 3

    Module 2 - Indicators

    • About This Module

    • Handout for Module 2

    • Indicators

  • 4

    Module 3 - Basic Elements

    • About This Module

    • Handout for Module 3

    • Basic Elements

  • 5

    Module 4 - Labs 1 and 2

    • About This Module

    • Lab #1 Floor Activities in Prone (part 1)

    • Lab #1 Floor Activities in Prone (part 2)

    • Lab #2 Floor Activities in Supine and Rolling (part 1)

    • Lab #2 Floor Activities in Supine and Rolling (part 2)

  • 6

    Module 5 - Clinical Reasoning

    • About This Module

    • Handout for Module 5

    • Clinical Reasoning

  • 7

    Module 6 - Labs 3, 4 and Summary

    • About This Module

    • Summary Handout

    • Lab #3 - Creeping on All Fours

    • Lab #4 - Activities in Sitting

  • 8

    Conclusion

    • Gravity Quiz

    • Self Evaluation

    • Course Evaluation