HUMAN MOTOR DEVELOPMENT IN INDIVIDUALS WITH AND WITHOUT DISABILITIES: AN OVERVIEW
Authors: V. Gregory Payne, Jin H. Yan and Martin Block
Abstract: We have all held a newborn with her head gently cupped in our hand to help maintain the head’s upright position. Even a month or so after birth, many babies may need that supporting hand to compensate for the lack of muscle strength and control of their necks. However, by the second month of post birth life, babies have typically gained enough neck strength to raise and hold their heads upright. Many experts consider this to be the first major motor milestone of motor development in infancy. And, by two or three months of life, infants can normally hold their heads up and even turn them from side to side when lying on the floor in a prone position (Frankenburg, Dodds, Fandal, Kazuk, & Cohrs, 1992). By five months of life, the babies can raise their heads when in a supine position on the floor. This common and expected progression in controlling the head is just one example of early human motor development. Human motor performance is one of the fundamental aspects of the sensory-motor system. Many questions appeal to researchers in the field of movement science and other areas such as neuroscience, psychology, physiology, education, pediatrics, and geriatrics. For example, how do humans learn and control movements? Considering that humans improve motor performance in childhood as a function of enriched experiences or maturation, developmental studies on motor performance inform our understanding of perceptual-motor skills (Thomas, Yan, & Stelmach, 2000; Yan, Thomas, Stelmach, & Thomas, 2000; Zelazo, Craik, & Booth, 2004). A developmental approach can answer questions like why children exhibit certain consistent motor behavior. When and how do these motor behaviors begin? Are these behaviors learned behaviors or naturally developed? A better understanding of these questions has critical implications. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss key concepts related to human motor development, especially as they pertain to childhood, and examine the application of this information in populations of children with and without disabilities. By definition, human motor development is “the changes in human movement behavior over the lifespan, the processes that underlie these changes and the factors that affect them” (Payne & Isaacs, 2008, p. 3). It is a process that we all undergo as a part of the gradually evolving maturation from inception through death, the qualitative change in our function that accompanies getting older. Because it is such a subtle and gradually emerging process, motor development often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. However, as you will see throughout this chapter, it is a critical process that impacts, and is impacted, by all other aspects of human development – physical, social-emotional, and intellectual development. It is a process that is integral to achieving our full maturity and potential as human beings.