OU Health Sciences Center's special skateboard helps researchers study babies with cerebral palsy

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center researchers are studying whether babies with cerebral palsy can learn to move better by using the special skateboard. Many of the infants can't crawl or creep, often leading to lifelong consequences.
BY SONYA COLBERG scolberg@opubco.com Published: October 5, 2011
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The babies love their souped-up skateboards.

But don't worry. The people putting these infants on robotic skateboards aren't looking for another viral YouTube sensation. They're looking for a way to help babies' mobility and brain development.

Enter the skateboards or the “self-initiated prone progressions crawlers.” With the baby lying belly down on the device, high-tech sensors in the baby's “sensor suit” gather information about the infant's learning and mobility patterns.

Researcher Thubi Kolobe, a rehabilitation sciences professor at the OU College of Allied Health, is using the device to see whether skateboard babies — with and without cerebral palsy — improve in problem-solving, spatial relationships, social interaction and hand-eye coordination.

It's plain old fun, from a baby's point of view. Seven-month-old Jayce McWilliams looked almost like a biker stretched belly-down on the crawler, happily pushing one way and another during a news briefing Tuesday.

“He loves it,” said his mom, Brandi Lewis. Jayce is one of the study participants without cerebral palsy. “He can go where he wants to.”

Likewise for 8-month-old Avery Lyles, said her mother, Natalie Lyles.

“It took a couple of times for her to figure it out,” she said.

Initiating movement

Kolobe said the sophisticated crawler helps babies initiate the movement and the sensors spark an extra boost when the child can't push it. Kolobe said the sensors seem to say, “Oh, the poor little baby is trying to move, so move.”

About $11.5 billion is spent on the lifetime care of people with cerebral palsy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in 303 children age 8 have cerebral palsy.

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