A white background with black text reading, 'Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences', with the words encircled by a blue ring.

In Summer/Fall 2021, we are excited to celebrate the launch of a new research and innovation partnership between CREATE and the UW Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) focusing on access, mobility, and the brain.

Mobility technology such as manual and powered wheelchairs, scooters, and modified ride-on toy cars, are essential tools for young children with physical disabilities to self-initiate exploration, make choices, and learn about the world. In essence, these devices are mobile learning environments. Although there is some evidence that mobility technology positively impacts the developing brain and identity of children with physical disabilities in the first years of life, we still do not understand how the introduction of such technology, as well as its timing and dosage, affects learning and developmental outcomes, specifically related to communication, cognition, and agency. This knowledge could fundamentally shift the landscape of mobility technology provision in early childhood, influencing social attitudes and mitigating funding challenges surrounding mobility devices for young children with disabilities. 

The collaboration, led by Heather Feldner and Kat Steele from CREATE, and Pat Kuhl and Andy Meltzoff from I-LABS, brings together expertise from fields of rehabilitation medicine and disability studies, engineering, language development, psychology, and learning. The centers are currently searching for two postdoctoral fellows with expertise in disability,movement, brain, and behavior to work on the project. This collaboration will address several critical knowledge gaps: How do early experiences with mobility technology impact brain development and learning outcomes? What are critical periods for mobility? How and when should mobility technology be deployed to compliment traditional motor skill acquisition in pediatric rehabilitation? How does current technology meet (or fail to meet) the needs of children with physical disabilities and their families? We believe that answers to these questions will begin to demonstrate that early access to mobility technology is a critical asset for development and learning, rather than a last resort for remediation or accommodation. 

This two-year project will be conducted in partnership with children ages 1-3 years and their families using a series of qualitative and quantitative methods to uncover patterns across multiple contexts of mobility and socialization. It is our hope that this project represents the first of many fruitful collaborations between CREATE and I-LABS.

CREATE + ILABS Early Mobility and Brain Development Study