Blog Post Interview with Bette Lamont
Bette Lamont is the Founder and Director of Developmental Movement Consultants, an international organization designed to address underdeveloped or damaged brains. She is also known as The Brain Nanny© and works with parents, caregivers and organizations to strategize ways to create optimal environments, family by family including nannies, for infant development in the first years of life.
Q. What is the normal sequence of developmental movement in a child?
Bette: The Developmental Sequence is the hierarchy of physical activities through which every human being moves. From pre-natal activities up through cross pattern walking, all humans are genetically programmed to move through an ascending hierarchy of functional movements each of which stimulates the next phase of growth. Each layer of development is built on the layer of growth that occurred prior, so it is critical that each stage is fulfilled in a timely manner. This hierarchy of movements is, in the context of balanced, non-traumatizing parenting, responsible for our anatomical and neurological health.
Q. What are the stages of development?
Bette: In the first two years of life the brain learns 75% of what it needs to know. The acquisition of that knowledge comes through interaction with caregivers, the sensory environment and the fulfillment of those reflexes, motor patterns and mobility activities that are ubiquitous imperatives of the nervous system (The Developmental Sequence).
As our brain becomes myelinated over these first months, new levels of functionality become available. In the first weeks of life the brain is functioning at a reflex level, driven by the spinal cord and medulla. Many birth reflexes that will usher in more sophisticated motor patterns and sensory skills will be visible.
At 2 to 3-months of age we see the pons and amygdala coming on board and directing the child to begin motor patterns leading to belly crawling, integrating the proximal joints – hips and shoulders, stabilizing horizontal eye tracking, stabilizing an awareness of vital sensations (ex: pain). Crawling on the belly is a trigger for these and many other functions.
As the higher limbic system, or mid cerebrum becomes more dominant at 7 months we see the emergence of hands and knees creeping, which stimulates all functions at that developmental stage, including expanded social cueing, sensory integration skills, visual convergence, alignment of medial joints, better HPA axis regulation, amongst other gains. This is the part of the brain that bridges our survival systems and our cognitive systems.
The cortex and frontal lobes considered the crown jewels of the human brain, are supported by the skills of the brain systems below for regulation, processing, attention, relational, tracking, memory, and integration. Our cortex is considered the source of capacities for reading, writing, making paper-mache volcanoes, and designing space stations or computer algorithms. It is so dependent upon lower levels of the brain for its full expression that we only consider learning, behavior, social and emotional disabilities at the cortical level once lower levels of the brain are fully integrated. Walking, skipping, jumping, playing are developmentally part of our brain wiring, including for cortical development.
Q. How is the developmental sequence interrupted?
Bette: When children’s natural motor activity is interrupted, they may miss critical developmental processes. Babies who have had specific brain traumas at birth, babies who have had emotional trauma, may not have the will, ability or environment in which to complete nature’s plan. But even children who have not been traumatized may be affected by everyday lack of experiences. For example, children who do not have adequate opportunity to crawl or creep due to constant holding, children who spend hours daily in a car seat or plastic carrier or in variations of a “walker,” along with children who are sometimes referred to as ‘bucket babies,’ can have specific impairments that lead to learning and behavior challenges.
Q. What is the ideal environment for the developmental sequence?
Bette: The best formula I have found is for babies to be halftime in mother’s arms and half time on a smooth surface on the floor — unencumbered by blankets or carpeting — where they can move freely and PURPOSEFULLY, as dictated by the child’s central nervous system imperatives to move in specific ways that are true to any baby born to any mother in the world.
As we become more conscious about parenting, parents may feel the need to script children’s days, to stimulate them and be in constant interaction with them — a pendular swing from some earlier parenting styles. In fact, if I swoop up my baby from the floor — a baby who is determinedly pushing their feet into the floor and grunting, flailing, and trying again — if I interrupt that process out of ignorance that I am sparing them frustration or out of arrogance that says that my agenda for my baby is more important than baby’s focus, then I am robbing my baby of agency, I am ignoring their needs to move on their own.
The baby’s natural will directs it to move in certain ways, to explore their body in ways critical for brain growth, to integrate their OWN reflexes, to initiate their OWN sensory integration. And, while, yes, they absolutely do need more skin contact, nurture and eye contact than many parents give them, these babies need their own time to do their ‘own thing’ on the ground, as part of normal neurological development.
So, I stay with a 50/50 formula: half of baby’s waking time in arms and half on the floor or ground. We should avoid anything that interrupts these two activities (such as screens, walkers, devices, passive isolation on the back while awake). Every second in an infant’s life is an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of neurons to come on board.
Q. What can go wrong in the developmental sequence?
Bette: The ideal environment for the fetus, infant and young child is not always a reality, so in many cases, stages of development may be missed. There are obvious problems, for example, exposure to alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, a stroke in utero, brain damage from being dropped on the head. Less obvious are toxins in our environment, such as heavy metals, pesticides, chemical scents, and so forth, that are in the products we may use every day. A highly-stressed mother’s biochemistry will also flood the fetal brain with cortisol, which damages brain tissue. Other circumstances that can compromise the brain include: premature separation of the placenta, a difficult birth in which the baby’s head gets stuck against the mother’s pelvic bones, with pressure on the skull and brain, the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck with unrelieved pressure, excessive jaundice—all of these can cause compromises in the brain.
Children who are born with neurodevelopmental challenges may need additional support from experts in the field of NeuroDevelopmental Movement.
Further, separation from the biological mother, through adoption or a mother going right back to work, can traumatize the neonate. High fevers and medications can damage the brain. Recent research has shown that babies who are administered anesthetics prior to two years are more likely to have learning disabilities.
Q. What are symptoms of underdevelopment or lack of brain integration?
Bette: Our children come into the world ready to develop social, academical, physical, and emotional wholeness. When the Developmental Sequence is interrupted almost any of hundreds of diagnoses have their roots in central nervous system development. We see rages, anxiety, clumsiness, learning disabilities, attention issues, poor social skills, self-hard, dyslexia, repetitive behaviors, bed-wetting, poor coordination.
Q. What is NeuroDevelopmental Movement?
Bette: NeuroDevelopmental Movement (NDM) is an approach to behavioral, academic, psychological, social and physical challenges of both children and adults with any form or degree of injury or delay in the central nervous system. The work replicates early developmental stages and clients, not only children, but across the lifespan can regain or experience for the first time, the relief of symptoms that comes when the brain is functioning in an integrated manner.
Q. What recommendations do you have for parents and caregivers?
Bette: I am noting that, in all trauma workshops that discuss current childrearing practices, the piece that is totally ignored is the agency of the child to fulfill the neurological imperatives triggered by reflexes, that become motor activities and integrate the sensory system—i.e., the Developmental Sequence.
The Developmental Sequence is almost universally ignored in these discussions. This is an important point because if we truly listen to the child, none but the most anxious need or want constant attention. They need deep in-arms contact, then they need time on the floor to examine a dust fuzzy they have found, push their toes into the surface, trigger reflexes in the neck to pick up their head, to see what their arms and legs do in this particular relationship to gravity. Certainly, we are deficient culturally in attentive time paid to and with the infant, but if we swing to constant interaction and interference, we then ignore a critical rhythm of child engagement with the world. Infants need a recuperation phase where they are independent of our ministering and exploring the beginnings of their individuation. Without this we, and they are missing a vital rhythm of life.
Bette Lamont’s work can be found at her website: Neurodevelopmentalmovement.org
Her Facebook page is Neurodevelopmental Movement with Bette Lamont. Interested readers can find neurodevelopmental practitioners across the U.S. and Canada at nsibrain.com.