The emergence of walking in children

Department: Human Movement Sciences
Section: Coördinationdynamics
Researchers: Nadia Dominici, Andreas Daffertshofer

Name of the project: FirSTeps

The first independent steps of a child may be small, but it represents a giant leap for its development. In this project we aim to address the interplay between brain and muscular activity underlying the emergence of independent walking. The overall aim of the proposed project is to characterize the emergence of walking in healthy children and in children affected by cerebral palsy, and to identify an optimal re-habilitation strategy to promote normal walking in the latter.

Previous research shows that the coordinated muscle activation of stepping in neonates can be described by two basic activation patterns that are retained throughout development, and later supplemented by two new patterns that only become manifest in toddlers. This work opened up new fundamental questions: Is the emergence of these new patterns an indication of spontaneously changing brain activity? How do the basic activation patterns differ in children with locomotor impairment?

The research is structured in three parts. First, we perform a combined analysis of the muscular and brain activity in healthy children, to unravel the processes underlying the emergence of basic patterns. Second, we elucidate the number, type, and development of basic motor activation patterns in cerebral palsy children, as well as the corresponding reorganization of brain activity.

And last but nog least, the third fase, we will apply these results to the identification of optimal rehabilitation techniques for children with cerebral palsy.