Health Sciences

Mechanisms of motor control, learning and cognition in neurodevelopmental disorders

Experimental work here includes use of behavioural, neurophysiological and mixed-methods approaches, incorporating chronometric, kinematic and EEG measures. Connections with the Catholic Education Office and state primary schools have enabled large multi-site projects using experimental, correlational, and longitudinal methods, and multi-level modelling of extensive datasets (see recent ARC-DP projects). This work involves both field and lab-based testing conducted over multiple sites, both onshore and with international collaborators in the UK and the Netherlands.

Program Leader: Professor Peter Wilson

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Project Team: Professor Peter Wilson, Professor Jan Piek (Curtin University) & Professor David Sugden (University of Leeds).

The broad goal of this project was to better understand the development of movement skill in children and the nexus between action systems and cognition. Using experimental and longitudinal methods, we mapped the motor and cognitive trajectories of a large group of children, a proportion of whom had DCD. Specifically, we were interested in modelling the coupling that occurs between inhibitory systems and (predictive) online control, using a framework of interactive specialisation. Using a cohort sequential design, we followed a group of 196 children (85 boys) aged between 6 and 12 years over a 2 year period, assessed at 6-month intervals (or 5 time points in total). Predictive (online) control was defined operationally by performance on a Double-Jump Reaching Task (DJRT), while inhibitory control was examined using an anti-jump condition. Intriguingly, growth curve modelling showed that typically developing children (TDC) conformed to a quadratic trend, with evidence of rapid improvement in anti-reach performance up until middle childhood (around 8-9 years of age), followed by a more gradual rate of improvement into late childhood and early adolescence. By comparison, children with DCD showed a linear growth function, with a slower rate of improvement than controls. These findings confirmed that children with DCD require a more extended period of development to effectively couple online motor control and executive systems when completing anti-reach movements. These group differences are likely to reflect a maturational lag in the development of motor-cognitive networks in children with DCD.