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UD researchers test intervention program for infants with poor motor skills

University of Delaware


While squeezing a rubber toy to make it squeak or knocking over a cup of juice to watch it spill might not seem like much to an adult, an infant learns a lot from observing these simple cause and effect relationships.

Michele Lobo, co-director of the Pediatric Mobility Lab and Design Studio at University of Delaware, says that babies gather information by sitting and reaching. But an infant with a condition like cerebral palsy, which causes motor delays, will sit and reach less than other children. That can lead to significant gaps in thinking and problem-solving skills that become more apparent as the child gets older.

“We know that kids who don’t do as much of these sitting, reaching, exploring those objects, they have very early deficits in these [learning] behaviors," said Lobo.


This fall, Lobo will be one of a handful of scientists carrying out a new intervention program called START-play, that will target sitting and reaching abilities in infants with poor motor skills. In the trial-run of this program, therapists will enter 140 homes in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

Lobo says targeting infants who are only a few months old, as opposed to kids who are two or three years old is significant. There’s a short window of time for children to develop essential cognitive skills early on in life before they fall behind their peers.  

“Let’s not wait until the kids are old enough until 2 or 3 when it’s obvious they can’t fit together these simple relationships," said Lobo. "Let’s actually start earlier, since we really understand the developmental psychology of what’s happening earlier on [in life].”

The research on START-play has been funded by a four-year $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.


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