Lab director

Stacey Dusing, PT, Ph.D.

The mission of the Motor Development Lab is to investigate the development of motor control and coordination in infants and young children with and without disabilities as well as the impact of physical therapy treatment on motor and cognitive development. The laboratory is located in the VCU Department of Physical Therapy and encompasses 300 square feet dedicated to the assessment of infants and children. The Motor Development Lab includes equipment and space for biomechanical, behavioral and clinical research assessments.


  • Video processing and behavioral coding computers
  • Motion Monitor System: for recording, synchronizing and analyzing data
  • Bertec Non-conductive Force Plate
  • Electromyography (EMG) System: Run Technologies 8 Channel Myopac Jr
  • Tekscan Conformat Pressure mapping system
  • Data reduction and analysis software: Matlab
  • Many standardized assessment tools for assessing motor development in infants and children


Current projects

Sitting Together And Reaching To Play  

  • The purpose of the multi-center clinical trial is to evaluate the efficacy of targeted sitting and reaching intervention to improve developmental outcomes in young children with motor impairments.  Collaborating research site include Duquesne University, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Delaware, University of Washington, and University of Nebraska, Lincoln. 
  • Funded by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, Special Education Research in the Department of Education.
  • Clich here for videos and parent testimonials from the START_Play Study      


Relation Between Motor, Cognitive, and Language Skills during Infancy: An Extension of the START-Play Clinical Trial. Children’s Hospital Foundation

  • The purpose of this project is to investigate the relationship between motor, cognitive, and language skills during the development of sitting in typically developing infants.
  • Funded by a grant from the Children Hospital of Richmond Foundation to Emily Marcinowski, PhD with mentorship from Dr. Dusing


Supporting Play, Exploration, & Early Development Intervention (SPEEDI) for Infants Born Preterm: An Initial Efficacy Study.

  • series of studies have been completed leading a planned multi-site clinical trial.  The first study funded by an internal VCU grant evaluated the feasibility of completing a clinical trial of SPEEDI a novel intervention starting intervention in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and continue for the first 3 months after NICU discharge.  Parents were very receptive and the intervention was deemed feasible. The second study funded by the Foundation for Physical Therapy and the Children’s Hospital Foundation evaluated the initial efficacy of SPEEDI in a small sample of infants born very preterm or with neonatal brain injury.  
  • The purpose the planned clinical trial is to evaluate the efficacy of SPEEDI and compare the efficacy of delivering the intervention as 2 time point, starting when medically stable or 3 months after NICU discharge. This project will help to determine if providing intense intervention, delivered in collaboration with parents, to high risk infants will enhance motor and cognitive development and if the timing of the intervention matters.
  • Funded by a Foundation for Physical Therapy Pediatric Research Grant and a Children Hospital of Richmond Foundation Research Grant.


Tummy Time and Learn: Associative Learning in Prone – A Dissertation

  • The two purposes of Tanya Tripathi’s dissertation project is to determine if infant can demonstrate associate learning in prone and to evaluated the feasibility of using an automated play center utilizing operant conditioning to increase prone tolerance and improve motor outcomes

Does participating in a supervised fitness program extend the benefits of episodic physical therapy more than a home exercise program for adults with cerebral palsy?

  • The purpose of this project is to evaluate the efficacy of a physical fitness program for adults with Cerebral Palsy to maintain mobility and participation gained during an episode of physical therapy.
  • Funded by the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy as a mentored research grant to Christina Withers, PT, PCS with mentorship from Dr. Dusing
  • Collaboration with Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation

Impact of mother-child interaction on development during the first year of life: a systematic review

  • The purpose of this project was to expand our understanding of the role of parent child interaction in the development of typically developing and high risk infants.
  • Funded by Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) Post Doctoral Scholarship Award to Nelci Adriana Cicuto Ferreira Rocha.


Training Grants / Projects

Project 3IP: Interdisciplinary and Intensive Intervention Preparation for Professionals Serving Young Children with Significant Disabilities (Funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education)

  • Project 3IP, is a collaboration between the School of Education, Physical Therapy Department, Pediatrics Department, Partnership for People with Disabilities, and community partners
  • The overarching goal of Project 3IP is to increase the quantity, quality and capacity of interdisciplinary early intervention personnel in order to improve the learning and developmental outcomes of infants and young children with significant disabilities.
  • Press release

ITIP: Interdisciplinary Training for Inclusive Practices (Funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education)

  • ITIP is an interdisciplinary program, drawing on the resources and expertise from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Departments of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, and Longwood University’s Communication Sciences and Disorder’s program.
  • ITIP is focused on preparing occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language pathology students to develop shared competencies in interdisciplinary practice and skills as change agents to build capacity of school personnel to improve outcomes for children with disabilities.
  • Three years of personnel preparation: during their interdisciplinary training year, their clinical year, and their mentorship year (first year of practice) in school settings.

Virginia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program (Funded by the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau)

  • This leadership program is committed to the preparation of health professionals including graduate students, family members of children with disabilities, and practicing health professionals by enhancing interdisciplinary education in leadership and advocacy.
  • Disciplines represent: Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Language Pathology, Genetic counseling, Nutrition, Pediatricians, Psychologists, Nursing, Special Education, Social workers, Audiology, family mentors, and self-advocacy specialists.

Parent Education Strategies in the NICU

  • The purpose of this study is to modify parent education practices in the NICU to improve parent engagement and provide developmental information to support the infant and family. This project is being done in collaboration with the NICU at Children's Hospital of Richmond (CHoR) at the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System.



  • Sally Westcott McCoy, PT, PhD - University of Washington, Department of Physical Therapy
  • Regina Harbourne, PT, PHD, PCS - Duquesne University
  • Nick Stergiou, Ph.D. – University of Nebraska Omaha,  Director of the HPER Biomechanics Laboratory
  • James Cole Galloway, PT, Ph.D. – University of Delaware, Department of Physical Therapy
  • Lisa Brown, RN, PhD  at Virginia Commonwealth University 
  • Karen Hendricks-Munoz, MD, MPH at Virginia Commonwealth University 
  • Michele Lobo, PT, PhD at University of Delaware     
  • Christina Withers, PT, PCS – Sheltering Arm Rehabilitation
  • Profa. Dra. Nelci Adriana Cicuto Ferreira Rocha - Universidade Federal de São Carlos
  • Sandra Willett, PT, MS at University of Nebraska Medical Center


Current Students and Staff

Sonia Khurana, Ph.D. -- Global Visiting Scholar 

  • Ph.D. Physical Therapy, Manipal University, India, 2017
  • M.S. Physical Therapy, (Neuroscienes with elective as Pediatrics), Manipal University, India, 2010
  • B.S. Physical Therapy, Lyallpur Khalsa College, India, 2008

Sonia Khurana started working on her Global Scholar project including a systematic review on the effect of neonatal Physical Therapy on development of preterm infants in 2017. Her research interest includes Neonatal Physical Therapy assessment and intervention with special focus on motor, cognitive and language development. She has a special interest in evaluation of the developmental outcomes and spontaneous movement repertoire of typically developing and preterm infants.


Emily Marcinowski, Ph.D. -- Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Ph.D. Developmental Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2015
  • M.A. Developmental Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2013
  • B.A. Experimental Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2008

Emily began working as a postdoctoral fellow in the Motor Development Lab in 2015.  Her research interests include the role of motor asymmetries and skill on the development of play, cognition, and language across early childhood.  She also has an interest in understanding advanced statistical methods to understand development and discovering unique ways to describe temporal change.  Emily is an assessor on the START-Play clinical trial.  She is also the Co-Principal Investigator on the Children’s Hospital of Richmond Research Fund Grant (entitled: “Relationship between motor, cognitive and language skills in typically developing infants: An extension of the START-Play clinical trial”) and the Principal Investigator for VCU’s Postdoctoral Career Development Fund (entitled “How does parent-child interaction affect the development of object construction during infancy?”).



Tanya Tripathi, B.S., Ph.D. candidate -- Ph.D. candidate REMS Program

  • D.R. (PT) Diploma in Rehabilitation (Physical Therapy), All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, India, 2014
  • B.S. Physical Therapy, Manipal University, India, 2012

Tanya began working on a Ph.D in fall 2014 and is anticipated to complete her degree in 2018. Her research interests focuses on use of assistive technology to advance motor and cognitive development in infants born with or at high risk of neurodevelopmental disabilities. The two purposes of her dissertation project is to determine if infants can demonstrate associative learning in prone and to evaluate the feasibility of using an automated play center utilizing operant conditioning to increase prone tolerance and improve motor outcomes. Her role in the lab is to assist in data collection visits for the START-Play clinical trial and data coding of the Early Problem Solving Behavior (EPSI) assessment measure.


Gullnar Syed, B.S. -- Laboratory and Research Technician

  • B.S. Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University (2016)

Gullnar began working as a research intern in the Motor Development Lab in 2015. Her research interests include infant and child development as well as parent-child interactions.


Audrey E Kane, Ph.D., OTR/L -- Laboratory and Research Technician

  • Ph.D., Health Related Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University (2013)
  • M.S., Occupational Therapy, Virginia Commonwealth University (1991)
  • B.A., Biology, Hendrix College (1987)

In addition to her work in the Motor Development Lab, Audrey is Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She joined the MDL research team in 2016.  Her research interests include parent-child interactions and how interactions change as a child develops.


Past Graduate Students and Post-Doctoral Researchers

  • Profa. Dra. Nelci Adriana Cicuto Ferreira Rocha 2013-2014
  • Lois Phillips-Pula, RN, PhD. VCU Nursing Graduate. December 2011.


Stacey Dusing’s PubMed Publication List(click here)


Media and Video Abstract Links:

  • Physical therapy program offers help for infants with delayed skills → (click here)
  • Interdisciplinary Training for Inclusive Practices Training Grant for PT/OT/ SLP students interested in School Based Services (click here)
  • Supporting Play Exploration and Early Development Intervention From NICU to Home: A Feasibility Study → (click here)
  • START_ Play Videos → (click here)
  • Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy Stephen Haley Research Award 2017 – UNC PT Newsletter  (click here)
  • Project 3IP: Interdisciplinary and Intensive Intervention Preparation for Professionals Serving Young Children with Significant Disabilities  (click here)
  • Children’s Hospital of Richmond Go-Baby-Go (click here)