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Cerebral Palsy Update: Gaming Helps Children With Hand Impairments

Update Date: Feb 22, 2017 06:59 PM EST

Children diagnosed with cerebral palsy require life-long therapy to maintain and improve function to the upper limb of the body. Although traditional therapies have been proven effective, children only see this as work. In order to make therapy targeted at children with cerebral palsy, David Hobbs of Flinders University spearheaded the design and development of a gaming system that would help children with cerebral palsy, in particular with regards to their hand impairments.

Cerebral palsy is a condition affecting more than seventeen million children worldwide. The condition is caused by an injury to the brain which affects not only the movement and posture but also the cognitive and sensory functions of a child.

In order to help these children, become independent in life, therapies targeting the maintenance and improvement of body functions, especially the arms and legs, are needed.

Due to the popularity and accessibility of gaming consoles, healthcare professionals have seen the potential of using computer games to engage and motivate children during their therapy session. Although game therapy has proven to be effective in engaging the children, due to the game controllers not specifically designed to accommodate the hand impairments of children with cerebral palsy, the game therapy sessions usually end up frustrating and demoralizing the children.

Building on the concept of using computer games in therapy, David Hobbs from Flinders University, spearheaded the design and development of a gaming system that specifically targets children with cerebral palsy. In particular, the gaming system was developed for children with hand impairments to improve tactile sensation.

Moreover, the games used are from a lucrative sub-category of gaming that employs computer games not just for entertainment but to improve physical ability and health through gaming known as serious games.

The OrbIT Gaming System is a home-based, stand-alone serious gaming system. It is also a customized and accessible gaming system that aims to be fun to use, engaging, and a new form of therapy for children with hand impairments. Moreover, the OrbIT Gaming System helps improve hand sensation and function.

The gaming system comes with a laptop which runs the computer games custom-made to address the problem of limited hand function of the child. A unique orb-shaped controller was also designed and developed that is used as the main game controller.

The game controller, called as Orby, has motion sensors that monitor the hand position of the child and vibrates in reaction to different activities in the game. Moreover, Orby is made up of a material that promotes tactile sensation.

The OrbIT Gaming System underwent a 6-week randomized controlled trial with 18 children with cerebral palsy. Both the child using the gaming system and the child's parents reported improvement in the overall mood of the child. One child was reported to have become more social in regards to the disability of having cerebral palsy.

Another child was reported to have become more talkative to other people while one mother reported her child had been observed to have significant improvement in hand function.

Although the OrbIT Gaming System has successfully improved the lives of children with cerebral palsy, it failed to meet its goal of improving tactile sensation. David Hobbs and his team are looking to improving the gaming system and testing it to a larger number of children with cerebral palsy.

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