Learning to move

  • Autism Research
Speaker Karen E. Adolph, Ph.D.
New York University
Date & Time


Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium
160 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10010 United States

Autism Research

Autism Research lectures bring together scientists and scholars to discuss diverse and important topics related to autism.

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On 3 December 2014, Karen E. Adolph discussed how infants learn to generate and control their movements by adapting to environmental and social factors.

Her talk, which covered ways in which a variety of external factors affect how infants learn to move, was part of the Simons Foundation Autism Research lecture series. Adolph explained how infants adaptively learn to move rather than acquiring fixed solutions.

About the Lecture

Basic motor skills such as looking, reaching and walking do not simply appear as the result of maturation. Rather, infants must learn to move. Learning entails discovering new forms of movements to suit the task at hand and using perceptual information to select and modify movements adaptively.

In this lecture, Karen E. Adolph discussed how infants learn to generate and control their movements by adapting to environmental and social factors. Learning to move involves more than merely lifting the limbs against gravity. Adaptive action requires that movements be constructed, selected and modified in accordance with the constraints and opportunities provided by the physical and social environment. The learning process is geared toward flexibility rather than rote performance: Infants are learning to move rather than acquiring fixed solutions.

Commentator Cole Galloway provided post-lecture commentary that highlighted how mobility and socialization affect the lives of infants with special needs and their families. Galloway is director of the Pediatric Mobility Lab and Design Studio, and professor of physical therapy at the University of Delaware. Galloway began focusing on young children following a postdoctoral fellowship with Esther Thelen. His research focuses on how multiple biological, psychological and environmental factors contribute to the emergence of exploratory behaviors. Current projects focus on advancing the technology and training to assist children in maximizing their daily exploration.

About the Speaker

Karen E. Adolph is professor of psychology at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, as well as a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. She is incoming president of the International Society on Infant Studies and is leading the Databrary.org project to enable open sharing of video data among developmental scientists.

Adolph has pioneered research on motor skill acquisition in infants, in particular on how infants learn to use perceptual and social information to guide actions adaptively. Her research also examines the effects of body growth, exploratory activity, environmental and social supports and culture on perceptual motor learning and development.

Past Lectures

How emotions shape our memories

Kelsey C. Martin, M.D., Ph.D.Director, SFARI
Director, Simons Foundation Neuroscience Collaborations
Leonard Mlodinow, Ph.D.Physicist and Author

Have you ever contemplated the difference between a feeling, a thought and a memory? And how do all these things fit together in making us who we are?

Leonard Mlodinow is a theoretical physicist and best-selling author. In his latest book, “Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking,” he unpacks the role emotions play in our thinking and mental well-being.

Kelsey Martin, director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) and the foundation’s neuroscience collaborations, has spent much of her career as a neuroscientist seeking to understand better how experiences change brain connectivity to store long-term memories.

What do we mean by ‘autism risk genes’?

David Ledbetter, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Dascena

Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D.
Director, Seaver Autism Center
Professor, Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Genetics and Genomic Sciences
Vice Chair for Research and Vice Chair for Mentoring, Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Heather Mefford, M.D., Ph.D.
Full Member, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

David Ledbetter and Joseph Buxbaum discussed whether there are genes for which mutations confer risk specific to autism or whether these genes are really conferring general risk of disrupted brain development. The discussion was moderated by Heather Mefford.

Small molecules, genes and antisense oligonucleotides: Industry perspectives on treatment development for ASD

Federico Bolognani, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice President, Head of Clinical Science, Axial Therapeutics

Stuart Cobb, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer, Neurogene; Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh

Yael Weiss, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice President, Business Development, Ultragenyx

Randy Carpenter, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer, Rett Syndrome Research Trust; Co-Founder, Allos Pharma

Federico Bolognani, Stuart Cobb, and Yael Weiss joined a panel to discuss new industry developments on the use of small molecules, gene therapy and antisense oligonucleotides as treatment approaches for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The panel discussion was moderated by Randall Carpenter.

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