Early human motor development: From variation to the ability to vary and adapt

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This review summarizes early human motor development. From early fetal age motor behavior is based on spontaneous neural activity: activity of networks in the brainstem and spinal cord that is modulated by supraspinal activity. The supraspinal activity, first primarily brought about by the cortical subplate, later by the cortical plate, induces movement variation. Initially, movement variation especially serves exploration; its associated afferent information is primarily used to sculpt the developing nervous system, and less to adapt motor behavior. In the next phase, beginning at function-specific ages, movement variation starts to serve adaptation. In sucking and swallowing, this phase emerges shortly before term age. In speech, gross and fine motor development, it emerges from 3 to 4 months post-term onwards, i.e., when developmental focus in the primary sensory and motor cortices has shifted to the permanent cortical circuitries. With increasing age and increasing trial-and-error exploration, the infant improves its ability to use adaptive and efficicient forms of upright gross motor behavior, manual activities and vocalizations belonging to the native language.

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