Rising junior exercise science and Spanish major Morgan Tweddle has spent the last two months shadowing three Ph.D. candidates for the School of Kinesiology at Texas A&M as a lab assistant, aiding in data collection and gaining experience in the field she hopes to join.
Tweddle’s main focus has been an infant intervention called “tummy time,” an intentional placing of an infant on their stomach during play time that has been proven to build core muscles, allowing infants to explore their surroundings sooner and begin their cognitive development. In the candidates’ study, the researchers looked specifically at the effects of tummy time on infants with Down Syndrome. Tweddle collected data and evaluated the babies’ developmental progress.
The researchers used two motor tests, the Bayley and the Peabody, taken monthly to measure the infant’s development. The tests take each child through a series of different skill sets and movements, and the baby’s progress is scored based on their results. A previous study found average scores of infants with and without Down Syndrome without the use of tummy time. There was a profound gap between the progression of the infants – tummy time is intended to close that gap.
Tweddle and her team used the previous study for comparison purposes as they added the prescribed 90-minute/day tummy time regimen to a group of babies with and without Down Syndrome. Tweddle explained that the results indicate “the infants with Down Syndrome who have tummy time are remaining at the same developmental level as those without for a longer period of time before there is a gap in their development.” Therefore, with tummy time, the developmental gap is much smaller.
Seeing the impact of these results, Tweddle said she now understands the importance of her work. “Our most exciting example of this was a baby we worked with who has Down Syndrome who started walking at 16 months – the national average is 24 months! It was incredible. Now that he can walk, explore his surroundings and continue his cognitive and social development, he can live life more fully,” she said.
It was through Belmont’s Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Medical Honor Society that Tweddle first heard of the opportunity and was chosen through an application in the spring semester. “Through my job at the gym, I went in comfortable with resume writing and interview processes, both of which I think helped me to secure a position there at all,” she said. Tweddle is a personal trainer and yoga instructor at Belmont’s Fitness and Recreation Center, both of which, she says, are similar to the personal interaction and movements necessary to be a successful physical therapist.
One of Tweedle’s favorite parts of the program was the day spent at the Texas State Special Olympics to provide health screenings for athletes.
Post graduation, Tweddle plans to attend physical therapy school to obtain both a Doctor of Physical Therapy, allowing her to practice in a clinical setting, and a Ph.D., allowing her to conduct research and teach. Tweddle explained that this opportunity gave her new excitement for her future goals. “I am a planner, and this gave me a look at one of the possible roads I can take. God led me to this opportunity, and it is exciting to see His plan for me starting to unfold,” she said.