Assessment of upper limb use in children with typical development and neurodevelopmental disorders by inertial sensors: A systematic review

Irene Braito, Martina Maselli, Giuseppina Sgandurra, Emanuela Inguaggiato, Elena Beani, Francesca Cecchi, Giovanni Cioni, Roslyn Boyd

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Understanding development of bimanual upper limb (UL) activities in both typical and atypical conditions in children is important for: i) tailoring rehabilitation programs, ii) monitoring progress, iii) determining outcomes and iv) evaluating effectiveness of treatment/rehabilitation. Recent technological advances, such as wearable sensors, offer possibilities to perform standard medical monitoring. Body-worn motion sensors, mainly accelerometers, have shown very promising results but, so far, these studies have mainly focused on adults. The main aim of this review was to report the evidence of UL activity of both typically developing (TD) children and children with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) that are reliably reported and comparable, using a combination of multiple wearable inertial sensors, both in laboratory and natural settings. Articles were selected from three research databases (PubMed, Web of Science and EBSCO). Included studies reported data on children aged 0-20 years old simultaneously wearing at least two inertial sensors on upper extremities. The collected and reported data were relevant in order to describe the amount of physical activity performed by the two ULs separately. A total of 21 articles were selected: 11 including TD, and 10 regarding NDDs. For each article, a review of both clinical and technical data was performed. We considered inertial sensors used for following aims: (i) to establish activity intensity cut-points; (ii) to investigate validity and reliability of specified markers, placement and/or number of inertial sensors; (iii) to evaluate duration and intensity of natural UL movements, defined motor tasks and tremor; and (iv) to assess efficacy of certain rehabilitation protocols. Our conclusions were that inertial sensors are able to detect differences in use between both hands and that all reviewed studies support use of accelerometers as an objective outcome measure, appropriate in assessing UL activity in young children with NDDs and determining intervention effectiveness. Further research on responsiveness to interventions and consistency with use in real-world settings is needed. This information could be useful in planning UL rehabilitation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number94
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 6 2018


  • Actigraphs
  • Asymmetry
  • Bimanual activity
  • Children
  • Hand dominance
  • Inertial sensor
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Typical development
  • Upper limb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Health Informatics


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