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Task-specific gross motor skills training for ambulant school-aged children with cerebral palsy: a systematic review
  1. Rachel Toovey1,2,
  2. Charmaine Bernie1,3,
  3. Adrienne R Harvey1,3,
  4. Jennifer L McGinley2,
  5. Alicia J Spittle2,4
  1. 1 Developmental Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Department of Physiotherapy, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 Department of Neurodevelopment and Disability, The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4 Victorian Infant Brain Studies, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Rachel Toovey; rachel.toovey{at}


Objectives The primary objective is to systematically evaluate the evidence for the effectiveness of task-specific training (TST) of gross motor skills for improving activity and/or participation outcomes in ambulant school-aged children with cerebral palsy (CP). The secondary objective is to identify motor learning strategies reported within TST and assess relationship to outcome.

Design Systematic review.

Method Relevant databases were searched for studies including: children with CP (mean age >4 years and >60% of the sample ambulant); TST targeting gross motor skills and activity (skill performance, gross motor function and functional skills) and/or participation-related outcomes. Quality of included studies was assessed using standardised tools for risk of bias, study design and quality of evidence across outcomes. Continuous data were summarised for each study using standardised mean difference (SMD) and 95% CIs.

Results Thirteen studies met inclusion criteria: eight randomised controlled trials (RCTs), three comparative studies, one repeated-measures study and one single-subject design study. Risk of bias was moderate across studies. Components of TST varied and were often poorly reported. Within-group effects of TST were positive across all outcomes of interest in 11 studies. In RCTs, between-group effects were conflicting for skill performance and functional skills, positive for participation-related outcomes (one study: Life-HABITS performance SMD=1.19, 95% CI 0.3 to 2.07, p<0.001; Life-HABITS satisfaction SMD=1.29, 95% CI 0.40 to 2.18, p=0.001), while no difference or negative effects were found for gross motor function. The quality of evidence was low-to-moderate overall. Variability and poor reporting of motor learning strategies limited assessment of relationship to outcome.

Conclusions Limited evidence for TST for gross motor skills in ambulant children with CP exists for improving activity and participation-related outcomes and recommendations for use over other interventions are limited by poor study methodology and heterogeneous interventions.

Registration PROSPERO ID42016036727

  • cerebral palsy
  • task-specific training
  • gross motor skills
  • activity
  • participation

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  • Twitter @RachelToovey, @AliciaSpittle

  • Contributors All named authors contributed to the design of this review. RT collected data, carried out data analyses and led interpretation and reporting. CB collected data and contributed to interpretation and reporting. ARH, JLM and AJS contributed to data analysis, interpretation and reporting. All named authors approved the final manuscript as submitted.

  • Funding The research was funded by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship (RT), National Health Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence in Cerebral Palsy ID 1057997 (RT and AH), Centre of Research Excellence in Newborn Medicine ID 1060733 (AJS), NHMRC Career Development Fellowship ID 1053767 (AJS), Melbourne Children’s Campus Clinician Scientist Fellowship (AH), Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (RT, CB and AH) and the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data relating to the quantitative synthesis are available on request.

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