University of Cambridge > > Zangwill Club > From science to technology: the interaction between senses during the development and the creation of new rehabilitation devices.

From science to technology: the interaction between senses during the development and the creation of new rehabilitation devices.

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It is evident that the brain is capable of large-scale reorganization following sensory deprivation but the extent of such reorganization is not clear to date. Many works show that the visual modality is crucial to develop spatial representations and the auditory modality is crucial to develop temporal representations. Blindness and deafness are ideal clinical conditions to study the reorganization of spatial and temporal representations when the visual or audio signals are not available. I will present our data on the development of cross-sensory spatial and temporal skills in typical, blind and deaf children and adults. Results show that blind and low vision children and adults are impaired in some audio and tactile spatial skills and deaf are impaired on visual temporal processing. These results support the importance of these modalities on the cross-sensory development of spatial and temporal representations. I will also present EEG results in blind and deaf individuals to support this idea showing that the sensory cortices have a pivotal role in building a high resolution and flexible spatial and temporal representations within the audio and visual modality and that these mechanisms are experience dependent. Finally, I will show that it possible to improve spatial representation skills in blind individuals with specific rehabilitation training. Previous works have shown that in sighted children the development of spatial representation is strictly related to the link between body movements and visual feedback. By 5 months of age, sighted infants start to watch movements of their own hands and reach out towards interesting objects. The onset of this successful sensory-motor association likely mediates the effects of visual experience on spatial representations in the sighted infant (Bremner et al., 2008). When the visual information is unavailable, the natural visual sensory feedback associated with body movement, and crucial for the development of space-representation, is missing. We investigated whether a new sensory-motor training based on audio-tactile-motor feedback associated with body movement can be used to improve spatial representation in blind and low vision children. 42 children between 3 and 15 years of age participated in 3 months of rehabilitation training with the new device. Results suggest that it possible to use audio feedbacks associated with arm movement (e.g. small audio speakers positioned on the child’s wrist) to rehabilitate space representation in blind children.

Monica Gori graduated in Psychology at the University of Florence in 2004 (cum laude). From 2004 to 2005 she worked at the CNR of Pisa in David Burr’s Laboratory. She received her PhD in Humanoid Technologies from University of Genoa in January 2009. In 2008 she spent some months in Martin Banks lab (Berkeley, California). After a post-doc at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), she is now Tenure Track Researcher leading the U-VIP unit at IIT . She is an expert of multisensory integration, development and sensory disability, on which she has more than 80 publications and coordinated two ICT European Projects (ABBI and WeDraw) .

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