The acronym SOMP-I highlights important components of the assessment method
A structured observation indicates that the parts to be assessed are clearly described and their order is predetermined. All infants are examined in the same way. After training, different assessors can use the method to arrive at the same result. The assessment is guided by descriptions on scales for level of motor development for different body parts in different body positions. This gives the assessor both informative and pedagogic support. If, during the observation, the assessor explains what they are doing and observing, the parents also become interested and involved in their infant’s motor development. Repeated performance of a structured assessment quickly increases the examiner’s skill and efficiency and provides in-depth knowledge about infants’ motor performance.
The method is based on observation. The assessor should not use their hands to support the infant, as this would obstruct their view of the infant’s own abilities or difficulties. Appropriate support should only be given in sitting and standing where the infant cannot maintain these positions themselves. The infant must show their own ability to stabilize and balance their body in the various body positions. If the infant has any difficulties, the assessor will note this in the form of deviations from the descriptions of quality of motor performance, such as instability, side differences, and so on. An infant who is disturbed by persistent or overly strong primitive reflexes/reactions will also reveal this by an increased amount of quality deviations.
In a SOMP-I assessment, the infant’s motor performance is observed through the infant’s spontaneous and volitional movements. The assessor should catch the infant’s interest with its own face, an interesting toy or the parent so that the infant is motivated to move. Other ways of motivating the infant to move include stimulating them via vision, hearing, and sometimes tactile stimulation. With SOMP-I, the infant’s motor abilities are assessed on an activity level; that is, the level where the infant shows their ability to move based on their own pre-conditions. The assessment is not conducted on a structural level. This means, if the infant deviates in the motor performance, additional assessment is conducted on a structural level, covering aspects such as muscle tone, reflexes, joint mobility, muscle strength, and sight.
Because a SOMP-I assessment rarely occurs in an environment well-known to the infant, the assessor can take into account only what the infant shows of its motor performance during the observation, and not what the infant can perform in more familiar surroundings. This means that the assessor must create as good an environment as possible to obtain as reliable an assessment as possible.
SOMP-I measures motor performance in two domains: level of motor development and quality of motor performance. Detailed observations are made for different body parts (head, arms and hands, trunk, and legs and feet), in the supine and prone positions, and for the whole body sitting, standing, and during locomotion. Finally, there is one scale for hand function.
The letter I stands for Infant.