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Date: February 06, 2004

Computer technology helps children with Down Syndrome discover the joy of the dance.

Increased motor and social skills among the benefits.

UVic researchers are using the same technology that gave life to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings to help children with Down Syndrome (DS) discover the joy of dance. “Speak the Dance” uses motion-capture technology to help children with Down Syndrome (DS) learn to play and dance and improve their motor and social skills. The research project is coordinated by UVic psychologist Dr. Naznin Virji-Babul, research director of the Down Syndrome Research Foundation and Centre for Human Movement Analysis (CHUMA) at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health.

Using small lightweight markers attached to specific parts of the body, and a computer to track and record the movement in 3D space, Virji-Babul and her team are able to evaluate the children’s individual movement and develop a personal program to help children become more socially and physically active. Currently there are six children participating in “Speak the Dance.”

Individuals with DS, which occurs in about one out of every 600 live births in Canada, are at greater risk of obesity and its associated medical complications. Apart from its social stigma, obesity can have a negative effect on the development of motor skills, which in turn can lead to a sedentary lifestyle with limited opportunities for social interaction. Unlike conventional movement therapy programs that focus on developing muscle tone, strength and coordination separately, “Speak the Dance” incorporates both motor and language skills with a focus on movement and communication.

“Our long-term objective is to help children with DS develop and maintain an active lifestyle, and to develop the confidence to participate more fully in the community,” says Virji-Babul. “The motion capture technology is a tremendous help in understanding and evaluating movement. It assists us in developing individual programs for DS kids.”

Over the next three to five years Virji-Babul and her team will continue to collect and evaluate the data in order to create a program for educators of DS children. Eventually both a manual and CD will be available.

“Speak the Dance” is funded by The Victoria Foundation and supported by UVic’s school of physical education. The Queen Alexandra Foundation provides major funding for CHUMA.

Media contacts:
Members of the media are invited to attend a Speak the Dance session on Saturday, Feb 7, 10-11:00 a.m. at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health, Pearkes Building, Multipurpose Room.

Dr. Naznin Virji-Babul (Psychology) at (250) 721-6849 or nvb@uvic.ca
Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-7656 or ppitts@uvic.ca

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

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