Why is walking at the top of those child development charts, and crawling at the bottom? And why is the option of wheeling in a chair entirely absent?
Holland Bloorview scientist Barbara Gibson just gave a fascinating talk on how we may limit the way children move because of the social value we place on walking. Her book Rehabilitation: A Post-critical Approach was just released.
“Rehab and other health professions focus on ‘normal,’” Barbara said. “They think about normal function, normal bodies, and, in children’s rehabilitation, normal development. Our interventions encourage uniformity in body structure and how bodies move,” she said, which may unintentionally reinforce cultural values about walking as the preferred way of getting around.
Barbara talked about a number of factors that influence attitudes about mobility.
Walking is seen as an endpoint in child development. Crawling is tolerated in infants, but is disparaged in the older child who “has not grown up.” Even human evolution depicts our ascension from crawling on the ground to being upright. Young children are taught that there are specific times and places where they must be still or move in certain ways. Literature and other forms of media and culture associate a person’s moral character with standing upright. Someone who is stooped is often viewed as “suspicious, dishonest and unreliable,” Barbara noted.
Children internalize these social meanings about the 'right' and 'wrong' way to move. As a result, kids who can’t get around in typical ways are often teased or isolated.
Being able to walk conveys “membership with other walkers,” Barbara said. “There are issues of identity.” For example, “I’m a walker” a young girl with a disability told Barbara.
Barbara suggested that it would be helpful for rehab professionals to view “difference as the default human condition.” Then we could drop our culture’s baggage about movement and creatively assess all options when a child has a disability.
Should we broaden advocacy for different ways of moving in the world? For example, “Should public spaces be designed for crawlers?” Barbara asked.
Barbara suggested we need to consider whether rehab reinforces cultural norms about movement or transforms them.