Physical therapy grad student wins national award for research on infant mobility
Hui-Min Lee has won a national award for her research on infant mobility.

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1:28 p.m., April 21, 2010----Hui-Min Lee, a doctoral student in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Delaware, has won the Outstanding Student Paper Award from the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA). She will receive the award at a society meeting in Tucson, Ariz., in June.

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Lee is advised by Cole Galloway, associate professor in the department, through UD's BIOMS (Biomechanics and Movement Science) Graduate Program.

Her paper, “The Effect of Early Intensive Posture and Movement Experiences on Head Control, Pre-reaching Movements, and Early Reaching Behaviors,” highlights the abilities of infants as young as four weeks old to gain head and arm control and strength from training.

Based on a pilot study with 22 healthy full-term infants, the work provides a foundation for larger randomized controlled trials of training for infants born with brain injuries such as cerebral palsy.

“Within days of training, these 'young athletes' were advancing their head control and starting to hold their heads upright,” Galloway says. “Interestingly, cross-cultural research from non-Western cultures has long suggested that very young infants' head control is much better than we in the West think it is. For example, Western parents tend to cradle babies' heads and necks whenever they are held. Other cultures have a long history of parents providing much more active handling with specific exercises to help infants strengthen their bodies.”

Lee explains that the three target behaviors -- head control, reaching and pre-reaching movements -- are all critical elements of human motor development.

“Head control has long been considered important in the emergence of many infant behaviors such as sitting, standing, and walking, and it is a crucial prerequisite to the emergence of reaching,” she says. “The ability to reach for external objects, which typically emerges at around four to five months of age, provides a way for infants to actively and independently explore their surrounding environment.

“Pre-reaching movements -- the thousands of arm movements that infants produce throughout their waking hours -- are now recognized as the foundation from which babies adapt their first purposeful reaches, as they provide infants with important information, strength, and control. These movements have also been proposed to play an important role in shaping the cortical and subcortical areas that relate to later reaching.”

The NASPSPA Outstanding Student Paper Award is aimed at fostering and recognizing meritorious research by student members of NASPSPA. Criteria for evaluating the research include originality, innovativeness, importance, and significance. The researcher is also required to have observed appropriate standards for the treatment of participants.

Article by Diane Kukich

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