Unlocking Potential: Assistive Technology for Cerebral Palsy

As March unfolds, the global community prepares to observe Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month dedicated to raising awareness and understanding about this neurological condition. Among the myriad of challenges faced by individuals with cerebral palsy (CP), assistive technology emerges as a beacon of hope, offering innovative solutions to enhance independence, communication, and quality of life. For parents of children with CP, understanding the role of assistive technology is paramount in supporting their child’s development and well-being.

Understanding Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a complex neurological disorder that affects movement, muscle tone, and posture. It is typically caused by brain injury or abnormal development during fetal development, infancy, or early childhood. The impact of CP varies widely, with some children experiencing mild motor difficulties while others face more significant physical and cognitive challenges.

The Promise of Assistive Technology

Assistive technology encompasses a wide array of tools and devices designed to mitigate the barriers faced by individuals with disabilities. For children with cerebral palsy, assistive technology offers tailored solutions to support their unique needs and promote active participation in daily activities.

Simple and Effective Assistive Technology Solutions

Let’s explore some assistive technology solutions specifically designed for children with cerebral palsy:

Adaptive Books and Learning Tools

Interactive Storybooks: These engaging books feature interactive elements such as sound effects, textures, and movable parts, catering to children with CP who may have difficulty turning pages or focusing for extended periods. Occupational therapist, Allyson Locke offers these pro tips for leveraging assistive technology to make reading more accessible:

Using wikki stix as a page lift

Wikki Stix!: Wikki Stix are simply wax covered strings that are often used in craft activities but they offer a simple and easy low tech solution for making page lifts.  Page lifts are used to ‘lift’ the pages of a book making it easier for those with fine motor difficulties to turn the pages of the book. To make page lifts with Wikki Stix simply roll a Wikki Stix into a spiral or ball shape and place it onto the upper right hand corner of the pages in a book.  Wikki Stix offer a non-permanent solution for making the pages of a book easier to turn.  

Communication Devices: There are numerous types of communication devices available, these devices are used to convey anything from a simple message to complex dialogs.  When leveraging these devices to enhance reading experiences I tend to focus on the simpler devices that have a record and playback feature.  For example, TalkingBrix2BIGmack communicator, or LITTLE Step-by-Step with Levels.   These can be used to record the words on the page of a book that can be played back by the “reader” with a simple hit of switch. This modification turns any book into an interactive one! 

Augmented Reality (AR) Learning Apps: AR apps provide immersive learning experiences, allowing children with CP to explore educational concepts through interactive visualizations and simulations.

Sensory Devices and Toys

Multi-Sensory Play Equipment: Sensory play is essential for children’s development, especially those with CP. Multi-sensory toys, such as vibrating cushions, textured balls, and musical instruments, stimulate different senses and promote sensory integration. Pro Tip: If decreased hand skills limits your child’s ability to hold these objects, occupational therapists Allyson Locke has a solution:

The Eazyholds silicone cuffs are a unique tool that gives children and adults the ability to hold onto many items with ease. They can be used on their own or in conjunction with the functionalhand when a more precise movement is desired (any Eazyhold with the large holes will fit over the handle of the functionalhand). Shake a maraca, bang a drumstick or wave a colorful ribbon with ease! To get more ideas check out Therapro’s Eazyhold, What Can I Adapt, handy guide

Switch-Activated Toys: Switch-adapted toys can be controlled using simple switches, enabling children with limited mobility to interact with and manipulate toys independently. Another pro tip from occupational therapist Allyson Locke; battery interrupters can be used to make most battery operated toys switch accessible! Learn how here!

Communication Aids

Schkidules visual schedule display

Picture Communication Systems: Visual communication systems, including communication boards and symbol-based apps, facilitate communication for children with CP who have difficulty speaking or expressing themselves verbally. 

QuickTalker 7

Voice Output Devices: Voice output devices allow children to communicate using pre-recorded messages or synthesized speech, empowering them to express their thoughts and feelings more effectively.

Supporting Cerebral Palsy Awareness

As we observe Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, there are several meaningful ways to show support and solidarity:

  • Educational Initiatives: Share information about cerebral palsy and assistive technology with friends, family, and community members. Raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by individuals with CP and highlight the importance of inclusion and accessibility.
  • Advocacy and Empowerment: Advocate for policies and initiatives that promote equal opportunities and access to assistive technology for individuals with cerebral palsy. Encourage schools, healthcare providers, and policymakers to prioritize the needs of children with CP and provide necessary support and resources.
  • Community Engagement: Participate in local events and fundraisers dedicated to cerebral palsy awareness and support. Connect with advocacy organizations and support groups to learn from and collaborate with other families affected by CP.
  • Charitable Contributions: Consider donating to reputable cerebral palsy charities and organizations that provide financial assistance, support services, and assistive technology to individuals and families in need. Cerebral Palsy Guidance is one such resource, offering valuable assistance to those navigating the challenges of cerebral palsy.

By embracing assistive technology and fostering awareness and support, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society where children with cerebral palsy can thrive and reach their full potential. Together, let us champion the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of ability, and build a brighter future for generations to come.

Therapro’s Low-Tech Assistive Technology Solutions Shine at ATIA 2024

The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2024 witnessed a bustling Therapro booth, where attendees were immersed in a hands-on experience with a diverse range of assistive technology solutions. The spotlight, however, was on the low-tech assistive technology solutions, which stood out for their simplicity, ease of use, and practicality.

Assistive Technology for Reading and Writing

One of the highlights at the Therapro booth was the Reading and Writing Solutions Station, where attendees explored assistive technology solutions for various reading and writing tasks. Attendees saw the multi purpose abilities of the slant board first hand. The slant board is designed to optimally position the wrist during handwriting activities but it can also be a great way to bring reading material closer while minimizing visual distractions. Notable tools at this station included various pencil grips and adapted writing paper. The “Get a Grip on Grips” handy guide and the “Which Writing Tool” handy guide garnered appreciation for their practicality in determining the most suitable tools for different situations. Attendees also explored devices like the ultradome for magnifying text and the Step by Step for recording stories, engaging emerging readers effectively.

Assistive Technology for Participation

The Participation Solutions Station aimed at increasing access and participation in daily activities. The Functionalhand, a popular tool at the station, impressed attendees with its ease of use in aiding grip and grasp. The Eazyholds also gained attention for their user-friendly design, making gripping objects more manageable. The station featured adapted scissor options, from spring-loaded to mounted scissors, catering to various needs.

Switch Access Tools:
Taking a step into higher-tech solutions, the Participation Solutions Station also showcased switch access tools. Attendees explored a range of switches, from the tiny Spec Switch to proximity switches and the wobble switch. The display included an insightful demonstration of battery interrupters, transforming battery-operated toys into switch-adapted devices—a hit among participants. The PowerLink, a versatile tool, was another assistive technology tool demonstrated at the booth. The PowerLink is used to turn corded devices, like blenders, into switch-accessible ones. Attendees were intrigued by PowerLink activity ideas, such as creating an adapted bowling game using the Powerlink and a fan.

Assistive Technology for ADL (Activities of Daily Living)

At the ADL Solutions Station, Therapro presented classic tools designed to enhance users’ engagement in self-care activities. Weighted utensils, a rocker knife, adapted cups, and scoop dishes were among the showcased items. These tools are essential for individuals seeking increased independence in their daily routines.

ATIA 2024 was a great opportunity for Therapro to showcase a wide range of assistive technology solutions that cater to diverse needs. The emphasis on simplicity and practicality, especially with the popularity of low-tech options, reinforces the idea that effective assistive technology can be both accessible and user-friendly. As Therapro continues to innovate, the commitment to empowering individuals with disabilities through thoughtful solutions is evident.

Boy holding a pencil and writing using a slant board to assist

Empowering Classroom Engagement with Assistive Technology

Unlocking the keys to classroom participation and success begins with selecting the perfect low-tech assistive technology tools. Low-tech assistive technology refers to simple, basic tools or devices that assist individuals with disabilities in performing everyday tasks. Ensuring students have the ideal support not only fosters full engagement in classroom activities but also transforms learning into an enjoyable experience. Dive into the world of low-tech assistive technology with Therapro’s expert recommendations, paving the way for enhanced participation and a more fulfilling educational journey. Read on to discover the perfect low-tech assistive technology tools that can be empowering for classroom engagement.

Low Tech Tools for Positioning

Appropriate positioning has a powerful impact on classroom engagement. There are many low-tech assistive technology tools available to support proper positioning. These positioning materials will help students adjust their posture and their visual orientation.

Slant Boards: Slant boards are available in various sizes and can accommodate different height levels when a student is seated. Most offer stabilization of paper on the board with a metal or plastic clip. Slant boards provide a number of advantages:

  • Encourage upright positioning
  • Align the wrist in slight extension
  • Bring writing paper and visual information closer to the eyes
  • Provide one hand access using the slant board clips
Aluminum Stackable Slant Board

A Therapro favorite is the Aluminum Stackable Slant Board, which is lightweight, durable, and easily stackable. The writing angle is ideal at 20 degrees. The non-slip edge strip prevents the board from sliding when in use.

Slant board

Another great option is the Better Board Slant Board, which is a lightweight, collapsible slant board made of corrugated plastic that can be transported flat and stacked easily. Plastic clamps hold paper and it has “nonslip feet.”

Dycem: A positioning tool many occupational therapists love for its versatility is non-slip plastic called Dycem. It has innumerable creative uses in the classroom. It can be cut from a roll to the size needed to stabilize items on a desk surface, adapt handles, and be placed on a chair seat to prevent the student from slipping and sliding.

Blue Dycem a Non-slip plastic that solves a variety of stabilizing and grasping problems

Low Tech Tools for Reading

When it comes to reading, low-tech assistive technology tools can help students with key performance areas specific to reading including:

  • Tracking printed words
  • Focusing on a part of the page
  • Highlighting any written words
  • Magnifying words
  • Reading hands-free

Check out some of Therapro’s favorite low tech assistive technology tools for students with low vision or who have difficulty with the visual components of reading:

Highlighter Strips on a book page

Highlighter Strips: A favorite tool is the brightly colored reading guide strips, called Highlighter Strips that are reusable bright yellow plastic strips that brighten any written word on a page. They measure 1.5” in height but come in a variety of lengths. They aid the student with visual processing difficulty or the student with who is needs help with focus and attention.

Ultra Dome magnifier

Ultradome: The Ultradome make reading small print a breeze. The Ultradome provides powerful 4x power direct magnification and is made of solid acrylic that glides across any surface. It is available in 3 sizes from 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Low Tech Tools for Writing

Tools that facilitate writing are abundant! They serve many purposes such as:

  • Hand and finger positioning for a writing utensil in the hand
  • Spacing, sizing, and alignment of letters
  • Weighting writing utensils
  • Creating handwriting lines

Check out these handy handwriting helpers that support legible handwriting:

LegiLiner Double Solid Line 3/8' tall, Pen Style Rolling Ink Stamp

LegiLiners: LegiLiners are an innovative collection of tools that are both unique and practical. Using a variety of rolling ink stamps, they create handwriting lines to improve consistent letter size and placement on any writing surface. Create dashed lines with spaces, dotted stacked lines, number line, and much more! They are available in a Starter Kit that contains 5 of the stamps to get you started. Fourteen individual LegiLiners are available as well.

Star Spacer is a clever handwriting tool made of see-through plastic which acts as a guide to help the child understand spacing, sizing, and alignment of letters and words to promote more legible handwriting

Star Spacer: The Star Spacer is a plastic, see-through guide used to help students understand spacing, sizing, and alignment of letters. The results are immediate for more legible handwriting

Low Tech Tools for Math

Tools to make learning mathematics fun and practical utilize:

  • Hands-on learning
  • Sensory learning using tactile, kinesthetic, and visual cues
  • Interactive strategies

Therapro is your go to resource for products that support hands on mathematics teaching and learning, check out some of these clever tools:

Multi Textured Tactile Ruler: The Desk Buddy Multi Textured Tactile Ruler resembles an actual ruler, but has the added benefits of a textured surface, being flexible, and being chewable. A great option for students who benefit from extra sensory input during learning activities.

Flexitable: Addition and Subtraction

Flexitables: The Flexitable is a simple tool for teaching math concepts. It makes learning addition and subtraction an enjoyable and tactile experience. The soft, flexible, 7.75 inch plastic square grid with horizontal and vertical channels fold to reveal answers to addition/subtraction problem. Flexitables are also available for division, multiplication, and fractions.

For More Information on Assistive Technology:

Low-Tech Assistive Devices- A Handbook for the School Setting: Low tech assistive technology tools facilitate learning and participation in the classroom. A classic resource book that therapists are passionate about is Low-Tech Assistive Devices: A Handbook for the School Setting, by Lynn Stoller, OTR/L. It is chock full of step-by-step directions and illustrations for fabrication of low tech tools. Chapters include tools used throughout the school setting (i.e. positioning, mobility, time management and organizational tools) and tools specific to curriculum area (i.e. reading, writing, math, music).

Assistive Technology Handy Guide: Therapro occupational therapist, Allyson Locke, MS, OTR/L, has created a functional guide to selecting the perfect assistive technology device for your students called Assistive Technology Handy Guide. It examines low tech AT tools in academic areas covered in this discussion, as well as other areas of classroom function including:

Low tech assistive technology can be a game changer for engaging students in the learning process and are vital in helping all learners access classroom learning experiences. Up your A-Tech game now with assistive technology tools from Therapro!

Guest Blogger: Filomena Connor, MSOT, Retired