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Cerebral palsy and switch adapted toys

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Did you know every 15 hours, an Australian baby is born with cerebral palsy? A new research study called ‘GAME’ (Goals, Activity and Motor Enrichment) explores how early intervention in children with, or at high risk of, cerebral palsy can harness early brain neuroplasticity to improve movement and function. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt through experience. Neurons (nerve cells) can change through growth and reorganisation.

Toddler girl sits smiling in front of a dome. Mother sits in background.
Switch adapted toys from Kites ToyBox were used in the GAME study

The idea of the program was to introduce toys from as early as three months to encourage infants with cerebral palsy to initiate their own movement related to their own specific goals.

One of the therapists in Perth who has been implementing the GAME study is Leigh Dix. She accessed toys through the Kites ToyBox toy library. Leigh is an occupational therapist with more than 35 years of experience working with young children.

“Kites ToyBox helped me translate the GAME research into everyday practice and skill development. The ‘G’ in GAME is for goals because that’s what we want to achieve,” she explains.

I work with parents to set individual, functional goals. What is it that parents want to see their child doing? For infants and young children with cerebral palsy, many goals relate to moving and playing.

Leigh Dix – Occupational Therapist

Cerebral palsy, neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to change

The focus of the project was to enrich the home environment, providing interesting and motivating toys for a child with cerebral palsy.

In collaboration with a physiotherapist, Leigh selected toys for each individual child.

“It’s all about reaching developmental goals, while allowing each child to have fun playing and learning. If we can start working with a child with cerebral palsy early, ideally before they are six months old, it’s possible to change the brain to set up new neural pathways.”

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change – to rewire, relearn and strengthen important connections.

When the brain is injured or grows abnormally, neurons are damaged, altered, or lost causing disability.

However, the brain can create new pathways around an injury, or allow a healthy area of the brain to take over.

By harnessing neuroplasticity through practice and repetition, the brain will create and reinforce new neural pathways to learn new habits.

Switch adapted toys at Toybox

Leigh says Kites ToyBox was a great resource because it houses the largest collection of switch-adapted toys in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Switch-adapted toys were perfect for some children participating in the research. Cerebral palsy can make it difficult, or even impossible, for some children to play and manipulate conventional toys.”

At Kites, I was able to find switch-adapted toys to match the interests, movement abilities, and sensory preferences of those involved in the study.

Leigh Dix – Occupational Therapist

Play is an integral part of a child’s learning and development. It encourages movement and independence, develops imagination, nurtures cognitive growth and problem-solving skills and furthermore supports family relationships. Having a disability shouldn’t limit play opportunities. All children deserve access to toys that help them learn and grow.

Matching toys to the children

It became clear to Leigh that one of the children taking part in the study preferred certain toys. Toys selected encouraged active movement to help improve specific motor skills and communication.

“She didn’t like noise, so the toy had to be quiet, but she adored vibrating toys. Soft lights were also popular, so anything that flashed gently. Because the little girl has a vision impairment, high contrast toys were easier for her to see. I also used a range of switches, starting with bigger ones and then getting smaller as her reach and hand control improved.”

Under the GAME program, parents use an app. Home programs are loaded onto the app with photos to prompt parents about activities to practice at home.

It contained specific goals, for example, to use the dome vibrating toy, positioning it to the left side of the body.

It lists specific goals and toys and activities to match those goals and how to use them. For example, place the dome switch close to her hand on the affected side, then wait to allow extra time for her to respond independently. the dome will light up each time she touches it. Repeated practice of this encouraged reaching.

In addition, the app allows parents to parents to record how much time they spend working on the goals and activities they have developed with their therapists, including the time children spend engaging with toys.

Kites ToyBox online catalogue

Throughout the research project, Leigh found Kites ToyBox simple to use. The extensive range of fun and motivating toys at Kites, listed in an online catalogue, made it easy to access.

“I was able to look through this online catalogue to discover what toys were available. I could also drop in and browse to discover more about the different toys to discover how they worked, the sounds they made – experimenting with different switches. The professional ToyBox membership was invaluable. It made an important and positive difference to the families involved in the study.”

Get support

Would you like to discover more about Kites ToyBox – whether you’re a parent or therapist? We have several options for membership, including funding the resource through the NDIS, so sign up for a membership today.

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