Bilateral coordination is the ability to coordinate each side of your body together in an organized and controlled manner. For instance, you stabilize paper with one hand as you're cutting or writing with the other. Good bilateral coordination/integration indicates both sides of your brain are effectively communicating and sharing information.
Why is Bilateral Coordination Important?
Kids with challenges coordinating both sides of the body can have challenges completing everyday living tasks: (tying shoes, dressing), fine motor skills and activities (stringing beads, banging blocks together, buttoning) gross motor activities (walking, riding a bike, crawling, climbing stairs) and visual-motor tasks (throwing, catching, writing, drawing, cutting).
Children need to develop bilateral coordination skills in a few areas:
1. Reciprocal Movements
2. Symmetrical Movements
3. Supporting Hand and Leading Hand
These are actions where first one leg or hand and then the other one performs the same rhythmical movement. Some examples would be pedaling a bike or pulling hand-over-hand on a rope.
Your child needs to develop bilateral coordination skills in three different areas: symmetrical movements, reciprocal movements, and movements requiring a supporting hand.
These have each hand or leg performing the same action simultaneously. An example would be pushing a wheelbarrow, using a rolling pin to roll out pastry or clapping hands. It's important both sides of your body perform the same movement together with equal force.
Supporting Hand and Leading Hand
Often we use one hand for playing a supporting role as the other one performs more skilled tasks like threading beads, cutting with scissors or using a ruler to draw a line.
Both of your hands are equally important in fine motor skills, however, one specializes in tool use while the other specialize in assisting. Each hand needs to work with the other in a coordinated manner to ensure you complete the task well.
Most kids develop good bilateral coordination naturally. But, this isn't typically the case for kids with special needs. It can be difficult and a challenge for them to accomplish two-handed tasks. They might have an uneven focus like with cutting, for example, focusing on the hand with the scissors and not being aware of the other hand.
One goal of a pediatric occupational therapist in a preschool setting is helping kids strengthen their bilateral coordination and their upper body through a series of exercises or games. For kids with bilateral and upper body challenges, one goal is helping them be as independent as possible so they're able to perform certain activities on their own when they enter kindergarten or first grade.