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Infants and young children with weakened or impaired upper extremity functioning often develop a strong hand-use “preference” for reaching and object manipulation. While “preferring” their stronger hand, they often partially or completely ignore their “non-preferred” hand. Such manual lateralization might impede complex object exploration, which would negatively affect children’s cognitive development. The question is whether environmental affordances would significantly affect children’s manifested hand-use “preferences” by promoting the use of the “non-preferred” hand. The current sample included 17 children (5 males; 13.9 ± 8.7 months at baseline) with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (arthrogryposis). The reaching and object exploration of the children were evaluated longitudinally across a 6-month period with and without the Playskin LiftTM exoskeletal garment (Playskin). Results showed that the use of the Playskin increased both unimanual and bimanual object contact. Also, when anti-gravity support was provided to the arms by the Playskin, children significantly increased the use of their non-preferred hand, which correlated with improved quality of object play—more bimanual object interaction and greater intensity, variability, and complexity of exploration. These findings suggest that hand-use “preference” in children with arthrogryposis is quite malleable during early development. It is likely that children with impaired upper extremity functioning do not “prefer” to use a particular hand but, rather, cannot afford using both hands due to their limited muscular or manual abilities. Importantly, environmental affordances (i.e., anti-gravity support for the arms) might significantly affect the early development of manual lateralization, with potential implications for children’s quality of object exploration and future cognitive development.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.