This paper presents some of the ways we are attempting to understand why physically challenged children adopt the movement patterns they do. It focuses on the skill of walking and compares non-neurologically disabled persons with children with cerebral palsy. A multidisciplinary approach is advocated in which the tools of biomechanics, physiology, and dynamical systems theory are explored. Traditional biomechanics of children with cerebral palsy tend to be descriptive in nature. More recent methods include both traditional biomechanical and dynamical systems approaches to understand why physically challenged children adopt the gait patterns they do. The concept of self-optimization is introduced as a way to motivate the investigations. Mechanical energy conservation, minimal metabolic cost, normality, and stability are discussed as some of the potential optimality criteria. Optimality criteria measurement including several methods of analysis of stability are discussed, and preliminary results of findings in the three groups are reported.
The authors are with the Department of Physical Therapy, Sargent College of Allied Health Professions, Boston University 635 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215.