Dr. Danielle Levac, McMaster University, Hamilton

Dr. Danielle Levac won the 3rd place Pursuit Award on May 15th, 2013.

Her research presentation, titled “The use of motor learning strategies within usual and Virtual Reality-based physiotherapy interventions for children with acquired brain injury,” evaluated the benefits and limitations of usual and virtual-reality physiotherapy techniques for children who have acquired brain injury.  She observed and rated motor learning strategy interventions utilizing both with the usual and virtual-reality therapy (VRT) options.

Dr. Levac’s research developed standardized nomenclature, measurement tools, and unique models of VRT treatment for children with acquired brain injury.  She also built online training modules for physiotherapists using virtual-reality therapy with this population group to help them compensate for limitations in the commercially-available VRT tools.


Dr. Danielle Levac is a physiotherapist with 8 years of clinical experience in pediatric acute care, rehabilitation, and school health support settings. In 2007, she completed a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University, exploring recovery patterns in children and youth with acquired brain injury (ABI). Danielle then went on to complete her PhD in Rehabilitation Science at McMaster in 2012. With the support of her supervisory committee of Drs. Cheryl Missiuna, Virginia Wright, Laurie Wishart, and Carol Dematteo, Danielle explored the use of motor learning strategies within usual and virtual reality (VR)-based physiotherapy interventions for children and youth with ABI at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. As a component of her PhD work, Dr. Levac created an instrument to measure the use of motor learning strategies in clinical practice. Dr. Levac’s PhD studies were supported by a Doctoral Award from the Canadian Clinician Scientist Program (CCHCSP) and the McMaster Child Health Research Institute. Dr. Levac’s collaboration with researchers in Australia and the Netherlands during her PhD led to additional publications related to the use of VR systems in pediatric clinical practice. In collaboration with two other graduate students, Dr. Levac co-authored a highly accessed paper refining the methodological guidelines for undertaking Scoping Reviews, a newly popular knowledge synthesis method. Dr. Levac is currently a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-funded Postdoctoral Fellow in the Motor Control Laboratory at the University of Ottawa. Working with Dr. Heidi Sveistrup and Dr. Mindy Levin (McGill University), Dr. Levac’s postdoctoral research program evaluates the use of home and clinic-based VR therapy to promote motor learning in pediatric neurological populations and explores ways to sustainably integrate VR systems into rehabilitation. In addition to CIHR funding, Dr. Levac’s postdoctoral research issupported by NeuroDevNet and CCCHSP and she holds a grant from the Ontario Stroke Network.


The use of motor learning strategies within usual and virtual reality-based physiotherapy interventions for children with acquired brain injury

A major goal of physiotherapy interventions for children and youth with acquired brain injuries (ABI) is to relearn functional motor skills. Physiotherapists are encouraged to provide salient, intensive interventions that promote motor learning by emphasizing retention and transfer of skills to daily life activities. The use of motor learning strategies (MLS) to structure task presentation, inform verbal feedback and organize the learning environment is recommended, but little is known about: 1) how therapists use MLS within their interventions for children with ABI; and 2) how impairments resulting from an ABI may influence children’s response to MLS use. Virtual reality (VR) interactive video games that motivate children to control games by means of body movements are hypothesized to offer motor learning benefits (including repetitive, task-oriented training and multi-sensory feedback), but they may influence how therapists use MLS. A better understanding of physiotherapists’ application of MLS in both usual and VR-based interventions is required.

This presentation will describe the methods and findings of a comprehensive PhD research program that: 1) Reviewed the literature to explore the role of motor learning within VR interventions; 2) Developed and examined the psychometric properties of an instrument to measure the application of MLS within usual and VR-based physiotherapy interventions; and 3) Explored physiotherapists’ perspectives on promoting motor learning within usual and VR-based interventions for children with ABI. Contributions to theory, clinical practice and research will be discussed, and strengths and limitations of the overall research approach will be highlighted.

Dr. Danielle Levac