Posts Tagged ‘ motor skills ’

Movement-Based Technique Could Help Autistic Kids

Monday, July 29th, 2013

The diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) could be improved by a new technique that takes advantage of the disrupted motor skills that autistic children commonly have.  Time.com reports on the new technique, which was developed by researchers at Rutgers University and Indiana University:

Elizabeth Torres, a computational neuroscientist at Rutgers University, explores how movements reflect the way people interact with and sense their environments. Patterns in these movements can reflect brain processes and connections, and that could be helpful in understanding autism.

“The way that we study the brain is quite disembodied. We pay attention to the central nervous system—brain and spinal chord–and we don’t pay attention to the peripheral nervous system,” says Torres, referring to the network of nerves involved in relaying sensory information such as touch, sight and smell. “This plays a pretty important function in self-regulation and autonomy, and it is not often considered in autism and in much of brain research.”

Movement can influences our perception of the world around us, and our ability to sense the environment can also change our movements. “Movement is a form of sensory input that travels back to the brain as a form of feedback, continuously,” she says.

The central nervous system constantly receives and processes this feedback in order to produce the appropriate actions. During normal development, this system learns to anticipate sensory consequences, like how a baby learns to suction its mouth for feeding. But this process may not mature in the same way in autistic children, the researchers discovered.

In two papers published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, Torres, working with a computer scientist and physicist, described a way to both diagnose autism via movement patterns, and potentially treat the condition using similar action-based strategies. They developed a method that focuses on the spontaneous movements that autistic children, even infants, make unintentionally. The research team measured tiny fluctuations of movement among autistic patients, and compared these movements to those of normally developing subjects.

This strategy was able to diagnose autism among children aged three to 25, but even more exciting was the fact that the movement profiles were unique enough to distinguish how severely affected children were by the developmental disorder. All the autistic participants — regardless of their age — were essentially stunted in their ability to process movement by age three. By age four, these patterns in normally developed youngsters should be predictive and reliable. By college age, they are highly predictive, and adults can anticipate how their actions impact their environment and vice versa. But kids with autism are not successfully forming these connections.

Image: Child waving, via Shutterstock

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Tummy Time May Not Have Measurable Benefits

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Tummy time,” the daily periods when parents are urged to place an infant on his or her stomach to encourage motor development, may not be as helpful as initially believed, according to a new study published in the journal Early Human Development.  More from The New York Times:

Canadian researchers compared 1,114 infants born from 1990 to 1992, just before the “back to sleep” campaign began, with 351 infants born 20 years later. They found no difference between the two groups in the age at which prone to supine or supine to prone rolling began, or in the order in which those behaviors appeared.

They were not able to measure the effect of “tummy time,” but they note that it is not known how many parents consistently use the procedure and that, anecdotally, most who do find it difficult to keep their babies on their bellies for any length of time.

Whether tummy time helps or not, said the lead author, Johanna Darrah, a pediatric physical therapist at the University of Alberta, “the back to sleep campaign has not adversely affected motor development. Motor development happens.”

Image: Baby on tummy, via Shutterstock

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Poor Motor Skills May Predict Academic Trouble

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Children who struggle with motor skills may be at higher risk for poor academic achievement when they reach adolescence, according to a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The New York Times reports:

Scientists studied 8,061 Finnish children in a database that included weight, height, physical activity, parent-reported motor function at age 8 and academic achievement at 16.

Poor motor function, physical inactivity and obesity, the researchers found, contribute independently and in complex interrelationships to academic underachievement. Poor motor function, in other words, may set a child on the developmental track to poor grades.

The authors acknowledged that their data on motor function and physical activity relied on self-reports, which are not always reliable.

Image: Toddler climbing stacks of books, via Shutterstock

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