Several lines of research on normal motor development indicate that, even in the newborn child, movements are not just reflexes, but have an intentional content. These observations make likely that behavioural disorders of neurodevelopmental origin, that a re usually diagnosed after language development, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and others, may express themselves already in infancy. Currently, the diagnosis of autism is purely clinical. There is wide agreement that early diagnosis would be ver y important for rehabilitation and behavioural therapy. It has been recognized that autism has characteristic manifestations in the motor domain, such as repetitive, stereotyped movements, gaze abnormalities, unusual gait pattern, and alterations of moveme nt planning and execution. These observations are consistent with a large body of evidence of subtle structural and functional abnormalities of subcortical neural systems involved in motor control. The purpose of our project is to develop technological pla tforms and tools, to extract novel information from infant movement; this information is expected to allow earlier diagnosis of autism and related disorders than is currently possible. The idea is to analyze postural changes of the baby, as well as the int eraction between the baby and the environment, using instrumented toys that are constructed to sense kinematic parameters, as the baby plays with the toys, as well as sensors that allow to assess grip strength, and grasping patterns. One of the toys will b e able to generate basic facial expressions and to interact with the baby. The signals will be sent wirelessly to a computer, and will be then analyzed via self-organizing maps and mathematical theories of perceptual guidance of movement, to extract kinema tic and dynamic patterns. The validation of our approach will be performed on normally developing children, as well as on children that have been diagnosed with neuro-developmental disorders such as autism.
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