Science roundup

This is a new column in BLOOM that highlights recent childhood disability study results and ongoing research.

Robots give babies new mobility
Researchers at the University of Delaware are developing smart vehicles for babies born with mobility impairments. “Babies literally build their own brains through their exploration and learning in the complex world,” says researcher James Galloway. But infants with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other disorders may not be able to explore in the same way as their peers. Babies as young as seven-months-old can drive the robot prototype with a joy stick. See photo above.

Eyes hold clue to early signs of autism
The extent to which toddlers focus on mouths rather than on eyes is an indicator of autism severity, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry by scientists at Yale School of Medicine. Using eye-tracking technology, researchers found that two-year-olds with autism looked significantly more at the mouths of others, and less at their eyes, than typically developing toddlers. “We hope this technology can be used to detect and measure signs of an emerging social disability, potentially improving a child’s outcome,” the authors said.
Archives of General Psychiatry, 65 (8), 946-954

Children map accessibility with BlackBerries
A dozen Ontario children who use wheelchairs or walkers are mapping their movements so that researchers can measure the accessibility of their homes, schools and neighbourhoods. The children carry specially- programmed BlackBerries that track their routes and use tablet PCs to sketch the places they visit. Scientists at the Bloorview Research Institute will build on these findings by surveying about 1,000 school-aged Ontario children with mobility disabilities to study the barriers they face and identify solutions. The study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the technology and wireless services were donated by Research in Motion and Telus Mobility.

Low-cost knee tested in San Salvador
A prosthetics clinic in San Salvador, El Salvador is participating in clinical testing of a low-cost, highly functional prosthetic knee developed at the Bloorview Research Institute. The knee was developed to meet the needs of about a million people who have suffered war-related, above-knee amputations in the developing world and can’t afford traditional devices. Bloorview researchers simplified the knee mechanism to three parts that can be manufactured using injection-moulded plastic instead of expensive machined metals, cutting the cost from thousands of dollars to about $50.

Bloorview Kids Rehab | Bloorview’s Resource Centre