Biological influences on motor skills development

Written by janet beal
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Biological influences on motor skills development
Biological and environmental factors affect infant motor skills development. (baby image by Diane Stamatelatos from

Every family has its own stories about the impacts of nature and nurture on infant development. Baby Jon clearly had the long strong fingers that made his uncle such a good pianist; what a shame his parents never found him a good teacher. A new mother is so proud of the baby girl's big appetite that she fails to correlate her overweight with delays in her rolling over, crawling and pulling up. Although nature and nurture can never be completely separated, some biological factors can be identified as direct contributors to infant health and motor development.

Parental Genetics

Several generations of men whose wives laid out their daily wardrobes suggests that colorblindness can run in the family. Perhaps you and your sisters introduce new foods to your infants with great caution, given the allergies that several relatives share. Biological factors such as height, eye colour, and certain physical or mental abilities appear to be passed from one generation to the next via the genes. Therefore, who you are, biologically, has some impact on who your children are and how they grow.

Parental Health

Both paternal and maternal health play a part in infant development overall. Fathers and mothers with serious illnesses, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and some heart conditions can pass on a predisposition at conception. Sexually transmitted diseases and other infections, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis, can cause birth defects, delaying or damaging normal physical, psychosocial and cognitive development. Maternal exposure to environmental toxins such as lead paint or heavy and constant exhaust fumes also becomes a biological factor in infant development, in utero and after birth.

Maternal Nutrition

Large numbers of academic studies directly link malnutrition of mothers in poor and developing countries to problems with infant health and development. Diets that sustain life can be too low in protein or micronutrients to permit normal infant development, delaying or damaging motor skills. Less acknowledged, but gaining recognition, is the impact of poor maternal nutrition on the health of infants in developed countries. Poverty, cultural obsession with sexuality, inadequate maternal health care. and an abundant supply of entertaining but empty calories combine to damage the health of both poor and adolescent mothers. This complex of factors is reflected in premature birth, low birth weight, and other signals that infants might fail to thrive.

Parental At-Risk Behaviors

Although alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs might be seen as causing more social and cognitive problems than motor problems in children, they produce global development problems and delays of all kinds. These chemicals affect the nervous system, damaging the normal transmission systems needed for healthy development. Often noticed in hyperactive behaviour, poor eye-hand coordination, lack of emotional control, and severe irritability and sensitivity to stimuli, children of parents who have smoked, drunk alcohol, or taken drugs before and during pregnancy can manifest motor delays, among other symptom, as part of an overall inability to regulate behaviour of all kinds.

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