Background: In normal awake infants, fidgety movements are seen from the age of 6 weeks to 20 weeks. The aim of the study was to test the predictive value of absent or abnormal spontaneous movements in young infants for the later development of neurological deficits.
Methods: In a collaborative study involving five hospitals we collected data on the normal and abnormal quality of fidgety movements of 130 infants and compared it with assessments of neurological development done longitudinally until the age of 2 years. On the basis of ultrasound scans infants were classified as at low-risk or at high-risk of neurological deficits. Infants were videoed for 1 h every week from birth to discharge and then for 15 min every 3 to 4 weeks; quality of general movements was assessed. Repeated neurological assessments were also done until 24 months of corrected age.
Findings: 67 (96%) of 70 infants with normal fidgety movements had a normal neurological outcome. Abnormal quality or total absence of fidgety movements was followed by neurological abnormalities in 57 (95%) of the 60 infants (49 had cerebral palsy and eight had developmental retardation or minor neurological signs). Specificity and sensitivity of fidgety movement assessment were higher (96% and 95%, respectively) than of ultrasound imaging of the infants' brain (83% and 80%, respectively).
Interpretation: Our technique of assessing spontaneous motor activity can identify and distinguish between those infants who require early intervention for neurological abnormalities and those who do not. Our technique is simple, non-intrusive, reliable, quick, and can be done on very young infants.