FirSteps – The Emergence of Walking in Children

FirSteps – The Emergence of Walking in Children

The first independent step of a child may be small, but it represents a giant leap for its development. This project addresses the interplay between brain and muscular activity underlying the emergence of independent walking. The coordinated muscle activation of stepping in neonates can be described by two basic activation patterns that are retained throughout development, and later supplemented by two new patterns that only become manifest in toddlers.

  • A combined analysis of kinemetics and muscular activity in healthy children helps to unravel processes underlying the emergence of basic patterns.
  • Number and type of motor activation patterns are seminal characteristics that are expected to develop differently in children with cerebral palsy.
  • We apply our results to the identification of optimal rehabilitation techniques for children with cerebral palsy.

PROJECT Parameters

Launch Date: Oct, 2015
Duration: 5 Years
Funding: NWO – Vidi

Experimental Set-up

We reconstruct patterns of segmental motor output by mapping muscle activities onto the location of the motoneuron pools in the spinal cord. This will we help to unravel the re-organization of the spinal cord when locomotor primitives emerge. We expect that in healthy children new patterns will emerge spontaneously just before the onset of independent walking.

Analysis Method

We characterize the emergence of walking in children with cerebral palsy (CP) and study differences in terms of number, type, and development of locomotor primitives. We expect to see the same two basic patterns in CP infants as observed in healthy ones, but the number and/or type of basic patterns, and the development of the new (if any) muscle synergies when the CP child starts to walk, will be different.


It is possible to reactivate the locomotor circuits in subjects with a damaged central nervous system by increasing the activation of somatosensory inputs related to repetitive movements. Here we plan to promote normal walking in children with cerebral palsy (CP) by stimulating or facilitating the onset of characteristic new muscle synergies observed in healthy toddlers.

Related PhD Projects

The development of walking in children with cerebral palsy

Annike Bekius & Nadia Dominici
The aim of this PhD project is to characterize the underlying mechanisms of the development of walking in children with CP, by the combined measurement of brain and muscular activity.

The emergence of muscle synergies in typically developing children

Jennifer Kerkman & Nadia Dominici
We investigate the change of gait-related muscle activity in healthy children over the first 2-3 years of their live. Aim is to identify the emergence of muscle synergies around the first steps.

Related Research Themes & Projects

Learn2Walk – Brain meets spine

Learn2Walk – Brain meets spine

We analyze brain and muscular activity in typically developing children and in children with cerebral palsy. We seek to unravel the reorganization of cortical and cortico-muscular activity accompanying the development of walking with the ultimate aim to design novel rehabilitation techniques for cerebral palsy.

Research Partners

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