Ready, Set, Crawl! Creating an Infant-Friendly Home that Fuels Development

It’s a common practice for new parents to question whether or not their infant is developing on target with other children. To eliminate envy on the playground among parents, researchers from Texas A&M University created an easy-to-use assessment tool for parents to determine if their home is equipped for a positive learning environment.

Carl Gabbard, director of the Motor Development Lab at Texas A&M, selected graduate students and a team of researchers from Methodist University of Piracicaba (UNIMEP) in Brazil, developed the Affordances in the Home Environment for Motor Development – Infant Scale (AHEMD-IS), to assess the quality and quantity of motor development affordances, or opportunities, available in the home during early childhood.

“The first several years of life are a time of immense growth and learning and, for obvious reasons, the home is the primary agent for this development in the early years,” said Gabbard.  “Although we know the home environment contributes to infant motor development, little research exists examining this relationship.”

Parents and clinical personnel can use the instrument to assess and prescribe ways to improve the home environment, creating an optimal setting for motor development. Another common use is as a tool for early intervention in homes that may have children at risk for developmental delays.

With the AHEMD-IS, parents or caregivers answer various questions about infant and family characteristics, as well as those pertaining to availability of physical space inside and outside the home, daily activities, parental stimulation, play materials and toys. Questions are presented in a user-friendly manner with pictorial examples.

“For young children, the world can be compared to a playground, where each toy and piece of equipment affords a new motor action,” said Gabbard. “Infants experience learning and growth through affordances in their everyday activities and environments by playing with toys, crawling around furniture in the home, and interacting with nurturing adults and other children. The AHEMD-IS helps parents determine whether or not these crucial affordances are available in the home.”

The instrument has been used by Gabbard and his team in more than 500 homes in the United States, Portugal and Brazil. Findings support the idea that the number and variety of affordances in the home can affect motor development. Infants whose homes had higher AHEMD scores displayed significantly better future motor scores. Research is also currently examining the association between home scores and cognitive ability as the child enters school, notes Gabbard.

The assessment tool has also been used for research purposes with several journal publications citing its use. Since its introduction, the AHEMD has been translated from English to Dutch, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Polish, Spanish and Arabic.

“We anticipate that this project will make a significant contribution toward understanding the potential of the home environment in optimizing motor development of the child - a factor that has come to be recognized as critical to overall infant and child mental health,” said Gabbard.

The AHEMD is a user-friendly tool for parents, available free to the general public online - http://www.ese.ipvc.pt/dmh/AHEMD/ahemd_5.htm.

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: February 27, 2012