Department of Psychology, Health and Professional Development

Movement Planning in Adults and Children

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  • This research was supported by the  ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)

    Three papers have been published from this project: 
    Wilmut, K. & Byrne, M. (In Press) Grip selection for sequential movements in children and adults with and without Developmental Coordination Disorder. Human Movement Science (abstract)
    Wilmut, K., Byrne, M. & Barnett, A. L. (2013) To throw or two place: does onward intention affect how a child reaches for an object? Experimental Brain Research, 226(3), 421-429 (abstract)
    Wilmut, K., Byrne, M. & Barnett, A. L. (2013) Reaching to throw compared to reaching to place: a comparison across individuals with and without Developmental Coordination Disorder. Research in Developmental Disbailities,  34(1), 174-182  (abstract)

    What is motor planning and why is it important?  

    Our everyday movements are often made without any conscious thought. However, even a simple action such as picking up an object or opening a door require the mover to plan both the immediate action and to take into account what the next action will be. For example, to pour water from a jug into a cup, the way in which we pick up the jug will influence whether we can pour the water without spilling it. As such the way we pick up objects and the grasps we use must be tailored to each task, getting this wrong may mean spilling the water or food falling off the fork. This planning extends beyond hand movements and has an impact on every movement we make.

    Looking at motor planning in the lab

    To examine motor planning in the lab we start with tasks that may seem abstract but which allow us to mimic everyday life in a controlled environment. The study you/your child took part in considered motor planning in individuals with DCD using two tasks:

    Grip choice:

    Participants were asked to grasp an octagon and turn it to one, two or three colours. We were interested in where the fingers were placed and whether that allowed the octagon to be rotated as required.

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    Movement control:
    Participants were asked to reach out, grasp a cylinder and then perform one of four different actions. Small markers were stuck on the
    hand which allowed us to track: how fast people moved, how long they spent accelerating and how they positioned their finger and
    thumb. We were interested in the differences between the different actions. Was how people reached for the object different depending
    on what they intended to do with the object?

    Findings:

    In both tasks participants with DCD planned movements in light of the forthcoming action, for example grasping the octagon in a way that allowed the intended movement and accelerating towards the cylinder in a way that was tailored to the specific action. Adults with DCD showed a level of performance which was clearly better than that of children with DCD, suggesting an improvement in this skill with age. However, in all cases, the participants with DCD performed very differently to the participants without DCD. This result suggests that there is an aspect of motor planning which is different in individuals with DCD compared to a non-DCD group.

    What does this mean?

    There is still a real need for a greater understanding of the precise nature of the movement difficulties in DCD in order to help design more helpful interventions. The studies described here have added to our understanding of movement planning. Although more research is needed this is an important first step. Studies on different developmental disabilities have already used this approach to gain a better understanding of movement difficulties, which has led to the identification of areas for targeting intervention

    Who are we telling about these findings?

    We have already published findings in three academic journals (see top of page for details) and have submitted one others for peer review. In addition, we have published the findings in the professional journal of the Dyspraxia Foundation and presented findings at the national and international conference on Developmental Coordination Disorder which is attended by UK based researchers and clinicians working with children and adults with DCD.