Thesis: Imitation and Motor Imagery in Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: Investigation of Mirror Neuron Functioning
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a condition characterised by an inability to perform motor skills at an age appropriate level. It affects up to 6% of school-aged children, making it the most common childhood movement disorder. Children with DCD experience difficulties at home, school and in the community, significantly impacting their emotional and social development, and placing them at greater risk for depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Although there is a relatively good understanding of the motor impairments impacting children with DCD, we are still no closer to understanding their causal mechanisms. To increase the understanding of this complex disorder, and develop evidence-based intervention programs, research to explore its aetiology is desperately needed.
This research project will address recent evidence implicating the mirror neuron system (MNS) as a causal mechanism of the motor impairments associated with DCD, and develop and pilot a targeted intervention to address these impairments. The MNS is a cluster of neurons in the central nervous system that fire when a person observes, imagines, and performs an action performed by another, and is thought to be our primary modality of learning movement skills.
This research project will be broken into three components:
1. A behavioural assessment of imitation and motor imagery (behavioural measures of MNS function) of children with DCD.
2. An examination of the neurology of these processes using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and resting state fMRI (rsfMRI). This approach is novel and will be the first rsfMRI and one of few fMRI studies in this population.
3. Development and piloting of a targeted evidence based intervention program. The intervention will be developed based on current best practice and the behavioural and fMRI study results.
Why my research is important
The project has the potential to contribute to the understanding of the aetiology of motor impairments associated with DCD and inform treatments to address these impairments. In doing so, it will enable children with DCD and their parents, greater access to opportunities for positive learning and participation.