Could motion detectors help doctors diagnose motor impairments in young children?

Children with birth injuries, such as perinatal stroke or birth asphyxia, often develop motor impairments. In many cases, these impairments are not immediately obvious; rather, they only become apparent as the child ages and begins to show clear signs of developmental delays. In some cases, motor disabilities like cerebral palsy (CP) are not diagnosed until years after the initial brain damage. Even with pediatric screenings, subtle motor deficits may go unrecognized in young children.

Catherine Hoyt and colleagues recently published the results of a study (1) on the use of wearable biosensors in early developmental assessments. They used wrist-worn accelerometers (which, as the name suggests, measure acceleration) to record general activity levels and detect asymmetrical motor patterns. Hoyt et al. note that “Deficits affecting one side of the body, or hemiparesis, constitute the most common form of cerebral palsy (CP), which is the most common cause of pediatric disability.”


The study group included 185 children ages 0-17. Children with typical motor development were compared to children with confirmed asymmetric motor deficits associated with cerebral palsy. The children wore accelerometers on their wrists for a total of 100 hours each, in 25-hour increments.

Results and discussion

The accelerometers showed that typically-developing children under the age of three used both arms equally, while those with cerebral palsy used one arm more than the other. This is consistent with research on the emergence of right or left “handedness” (many people do not realize that a very early preference for one hand can actually indicate motor impairment, even though handedness is normal in older children and adults).

As senior author Nico Desenbach told the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, “Many of the children with impairments used one arm only 60 to 80 percent as much as the other, which is really abnormal. Even that level of impairment is not always easy for a pediatrician to detect, because children often behave totally differently in the doctor’s office than they do normally” (2).

The authors note that their method of detecting motor impairments using accelerometers has the following benefits:

  • Data can be acquired continuously as a child goes through their normal activities of daily living
  • It could be useful in screening children who are at high risk for developing motor impairments, such as premature babies or those with known brain damage, and determine what types of interventions they may require.
  • Their study helped determine that although children with cerebral palsy may have similar overall activity levels to their peers, they are likely to show signs of asymmetric movement
  • This technology could provide more detailed information on motor skills in typically-developing children at various ages, which could also make it easier for clinicians to detect motor impairments

In the Washington University interview, Dosenbach said, “I’d like to see the day when you take your 1-year-old in for a well-child visit and the pediatrician does the regular checkup, plus straps an accelerometer onto each of the baby’s wrists…That could really help us find some of the kids who are being missed.”

Cerebral palsy and birth injury lawsuits

If your child sustained a preventable birth injury, and now has cerebral palsy, they may be eligible for compensation through a birth injury lawsuit. This compensation can help cover the costs of lifelong treatment, therapy, and other important resources.

If you are interested in pursuing a birth injury case, it is important to go with a medical malpractice firm with extensive experience in this area of law.

ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.) focuses exclusively on birth injury cases, and our attorneys have the expertise needed to win. Please reach out today to learn more. Clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win.

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  1. Hoyt, C. R., Van, A. N., Ortega, M., Koller, J. M., Everett, E. A., Nguyen, A. L., … & Dosenbach, N. U. (2019). Detection of pediatric upper extremity motor activity and deficits with accelerometry. JAMA network open, 2(4), e192970-e192970.
  2. Wearable motion detectors identify subtle motor deficits in children. (2019, May 10). Retrieved June 12, 2019, from

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