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Assistive Technology and Cerebral Palsy Paper

Assistive Technology and Cerebral Palsy:

Abstract:

            Assistive technology has continued to have positive impacts on individuals with cerebral palsy and other impairments. This paper examines the major impact of this kind of technology on cerebral palsy patients. The purpose of this paper is to highlight these positive impacts while describing how different assistive technology methods work. One of the assistive technology methods that are discussed in this paper is augmentative communication devices. In addition to giving a brief description of various augmentative communication devices, the paper analyzes the impact of these devices on students in the school setting.

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            Advances in gait restoration and rehabilitation technology are also discussed in this paper. As compared to previous years, the paper show how advances in gait restoration produces improved results for people with mobility impairments. Moreover, the paper also shows some of the proven examples of rehabilitation technology for people with cognitive disabilities.

Introduction:

Cerebral Palsy can be defined as the lack of control of the muscles or joints because of an injury that occurs during brain development. This injury usually results in disrupted coordinated movement and frequently affects young children. On the other hand, cerebral palsy can also be described as a group of disorders that usually affects motor function and varying in severity. This type of disease normally displays itself in various forms depending with the area in which it has affected and the extent it has covered. Moreover, cerebral palsy has adverse effects that may lead to mental disabilities, seizures, communication problems, auditory problems, visual problems as well as other possible impairments.

While debilitating a child from infancy, cerebral palsy can sometimes be gentle depending on the location and level of the damage. Children who suffer from this disease sometimes need support in order to eat, talk or walk properly. On the other hand, some of the people suffering from this kind of disease may have slight or nearly invisible impairments while other patients have difficulty performing even the most common tasks.

Assistive technology devices are equipments, paraphernalia or services that not only improve the function of mental or physical ability but are also designed for people with various impairments. Due to the fact that these devices improve the function of some mental or physical ability, they are used by both children and adults who may be suffering from diverse range of disabilities.

Impact of Assistive Technology on Cerebral Palsy Patients:

The major impact that assistive technology devices have on individuals with cerebral palsy is that it gives them more independence, range of movement as well as employment opportunities. In fact, different forms of assistive technology help in situations such as speech loss, balance and lack of motor function among others. Not only do assistive technology devices help cerebral palsy patients with these problems, but they also enable the patients to live to their fullest potentials. The major aim for the use of assistive technology devices in patients with cerebral palsy is to compensate for mental or physical impairments.

Assistive technology devices can also permit increased mobility, communication and the integration of electronic equipments such as computers into daily life. While electronic wheelchairs are used to increase mobility, keypads and computers are used for communication purposes. Most importantly, there are various ways through which computers and the Internet can be accessed with assistive technology. This includes the use of complicated scanning equipments, voice detection software, on-screen keyboards and head controlled pointing devices. Nonetheless, these various ways allow a patient with cerebral palsy to use the technology accordingly (“Assistive Technology” n.d.).

For patients with language or speech problems, portable or computer related machines that can speak for them may be utilized. There are other assistive technology devices that help in the day to day requirements like in using televisions, radios, showers and toilets among others. Given the fact that cerebral palsy patients do not frequently experience impaired mental ability, assistive technologies are therefore extremely important for them. In fact, through these assistive technologies, cerebral palsy patients can interact with the society, go to school or even get a career. Unfortunately, many cerebral palsy patients do not obtain these assistive technologies because of prohibitive costs.

One of the key examples of the impact of assistive technology on individuals with cerebral palsy is in the school setting. Through assistive technology, students with walking and speech problems have their electronic wheelchairs fixed or attached with computer boards. In addition to enabling these students to engage in meaningful words and speech practices, the electronic wheelchairs allow them to move around freely. Therefore, assistive technology enables students with cerebral palsy to access quality education.

Augmentative Communication Devices:

            Augmentative communication devices are methods which are designed to help patients with speech problems to communicate more easily and effectively. These communication devices include a board with pictures that represents a student’s day to day life as well as electronic speech synthesizers. In addition to helping impaired children to engage in normal activities with other children, augmentative communication devices not only help them feel a sense of self-governing but also enables them to realize their dreams in life. However, poor families cannot afford augmentative communication devices because this kind of technology may be expensive for them. There are various augmentative communication devices such as

Manual Communication Boards:

            These are inexpensive and practical mode through which an individual or student with cerebral palsy can communicate easily and efficiently. Manual communication boards are systems with no mechanical parts and are personalized to reflect a child’s daily routine. The boards contain information which represents the user’s message. In most cases, a board maker is used in creating a communication board (Kahn n.d.).

Dynavox:

Dynavox is another form of device that has been specifically designed to assist the user in relaying output communication. In creating information the user is supposed to select a menu with a definite category by touching the screen of a computer. The categories then display folders that are similar to computer folders. The selected category gives the user a subcategory of information from which they use the needed information. For example, in a school setting, information relating to the number of subjects, school routine, or even the total number of students in at school is displayed. Dynavox communication device has helped children to modify categories that corresponded to their information.

Dynavox has also made it possible for young children with cerebral palsy to access information that is appropriate to their learning. Children who can’t use their hands properly because of the damage of cerebral palsy are provided with a switch that is attached to the machine. This switch enables them to communicate easily through pushing it with their chin, legs or even their feet. For patients with visual disabilities, a switch is provided with which they activate the device when the appropriate words or phrases are heard. However, dyvanox is machine that is hard to be understood by slow learners and may be relatively expensive to some people.

BIGmack:

            This is a lightweight and easily portable augmentative device that enables messages or a series of messages to be pre-recorded. When a child touches the BIGmack, the pre-recorded message is played back and the child can participate in classroom activities if the pre-recorded information relates to these activities. This device is effective in a unique way considering that most of the children with cerebral palsy may from time to time suffer from memory loss.

Delta Talker:

            This is an augmentative communication device that resembles a computer keyboard and can be used by both initial and more advanced communicators. However, delta talker differs from the normal computer keyboard because various pictures and words are combined to make a sentence instead of the writing of words and sentences. Notably, delta talker can produce more than four thousand words, phrases and sounds because it comprises of pictures and word keys as well as letters of the alphabet.

Impact of Augmentative Communication Devices:

As computer technology continues to advance allowing for more powerful and easy to use designs, augmentative communication devices are making huge strides. The impact of augmentative communication devices on students in the school setting is that it enables students with cerebral palsy to access quality education regardless of their disabilities. These devices enable these students to receive quality education just like other students. Various augmentative devices provide effective methods of communication between the students with their teachers. For example, dyvanox has improved the way in which information is conveyed particularly to those that are adversely affected with cerebral palsy.

On the other hand, board makers have so far been identified as one of the most efficient and cheap method of relaying information. Board makers allow students with cerebral palsy to easily understand information as well as being affordable to those who are not in a position of accessing expensive augmentative communication tools. Augmentative communication devices also enable students in the school setting to access quality education because some of these tools allow children to modify information into categories that are relevant to them. For instance, a dyvanox for a ten year old may contain information concerning home, school or sports.

Gait Restoration:

The recent advances in gait restoration have produced improved outcomes for people with mobility impairments. In fact, these recent advances in the science field have also helped research toward the re-establishment of biped gait in paraplegic patients. This increased mobility for paraplegic patients has been accomplished by the means of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) which re-strengthens the muscles of the patients. In order to attain improved mobility for the patients, functional electrical stimulation incorporates preserved reflex mechanisms of the transected spinal cord (Kralj A. et al n.d.).

According to recent research, paraplegic patients can perform functions such as standing or rising from a sitting position through the use of functional electrical stimulation. Muscles that are re-strengthened by the use of functional electrical stimulation can later be used to perform tasks that need high muscle forces. The execution of these functions is dependant on the development and establishment of the functional electrical stimulation cycles which in turn results in necessary movements. However, gait restoration may lead to hazardous situation if improper FES sequences are used. This is due to the fact that these improper functional electrical stimulation cycles provoke movements that digress from the intended function.

Even though the use of FES in gait restoration has disadvantages like difficulties with electrode placement, the need for expensive technology, insufficient selectivity as well as scarce knowledge of neurology and neuroanatomy, this method of gait restoration has increased patients’ mobility. On the other hand, FES as a means of gait restoration has produced improved outcomes for people with mobility impairments because of its numerous advantages. These advantages include the use of preserved reflexes, normal bone support of body weights and joints, lack of external braces and lack of force transfers with levers.

These recent advances in gait restoration also increases mobility because external control for locomotion is no longer used as was the case in previous gait restoration methods such as exoskeleton. The current methods of gait restoration not only use electrical stimulation for triggering purposes but also provide a self-regenerating energy supply. Moreover, gait restoration increases mobility because patient suitability, testing of muscle suitability, muscle re-strengthening program and simple gait training are conducted.

Rehabilitation Technology and Cognitive Disabilities:

            Cognitive disabilities can be defined as substantial limitation of a person’s capacity to think, remember, interpret and understand number and symbols. People with cognitive disabilities have difficulties in planning, conceptualizing and organizing thoughts and actions. These cognitive disabilities can originate from brain injury and lead to intellectual disabilities, severe and chronic mental illnesses as well as stroke. Fortunately, most of the patients with cognitive disabilities use assistive technologies to improve functioning in their daily activities.

            These assistive and rehabilitative technologies also increase a patient’s positioning, hearing, vision, mobility, learning and communication functions. However, the rehabilitative and assistive technologies range from low-tech devices to high-tech devices. Some of the proven examples of rehabilitation technology for people with cognitive disabilities include:

Virtual Environment:

            The use of virtual technology tends to create an experience which arouses an actual experience. Virtual technology enables persons with cognitive disabilities to engage in educational and community activities. One of the most widely used virtual technology intervention tool in rehabilitation is virtual reality. Virtual reality incorporates the use advanced technologies such as computers and different multimedia peripherals in producing simulated or virtual environment. These virtual environments are perceived by users as similar to real world objects and events. In the virtual environments, people with cognitive disabilities not only interact with display images but they also move and control virtual objects. As they perform these and other actions, these patients stimulate a feeling of actual presence and submerge their senses in the virtual environment.

Virtual reality tools provide these patients with audio, visual, and hap tic (the sense of touch) response of their performance. As a rehabilitation technology tool, virtual reality has unique characteristics that are different from other engaging experiences like reading books, and watching television. Virtual reality is also different from playing traditional computer simulation games. When used as a novel modality, virtual reality is essential in rehabilitation assessment and intervention because of its unique attributes (Weiss & Jessel n.d.).

Cognitive and Motor Rehabilitation:

            This is the other example of rehabilitation technology on patients with cognitive disabilities and incorporates the use of Gesture Xtreme virtual reality system to achieve different levels of immersion. This technology helps the users to stand or sit in an isolated area while viewing a large monitor or projected image. The large monitor exhibits different series of simulated functional tasks like catching virtual balls. The Gesture Xtreme VR system helps in cognitive and motor rehabilitation through a process known as video gesture.

This is an example of proven rehabilitation technology as digital video cameras translate video signals of the patient’s movements for processing by exceptional software.  The patient’s image is therefore processed like the processing of screen animation, text, sound and graphics. Notably, the reaction of screen animation, text, sound and graphics processing is largely dependent on the patient’s movement. The commencement of changes in a virtual reality environment through video contact is a process known as video gesture. This rehabilitation technology helps people with cognitive disabilities as their on-screen video image reacts when they move. The process not only gives a deeper degree of realism to the virtual reality experience but also results in the patient’s complete engagement in the replicated task.

Conclusion:

            In conclusion, assistive technology has a major impact on individuals with cerebral palsy. The necessity and impact of assistive technology on these patients cannot be overemphasized. According to recent research, this technology enables patients to carry out tasks that could be otherwise impossible regardless of the person’s disabilities. Given the ongoing technological advancements, assistive technology will continue to develop and counter various disabilities that many people face.

References:

“Assistive Technology and Cerebral Palsy.” (n.d.). Cerebral Palsy Source. Retrieved May 28,

2010, from http://www.cerebralpalsysource.com/About_CP/assistive-technology/index.html

Kahn A. B. (n.d.). Assistive Technology for Children who have Cerebral Palsy: Augmentative

Communication Devices. Retrieved May 28, 2010, from http://www.newhorizons.org/spneeds/inclusion/teaching/kahn.htm

Kralj A. et al. (n.d.). Gait Restoration in Paraplegic Patients. Retrieved May 28, 2010, from

http://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/83/20/1/pdf/kralj.pdf

Weiss P.L & Jessel A. (n.d.). Virtual Reality. Retrieved May 28, 2010, from

http://hw.haifa.ac.il/occupa/LIRT/vr.htm

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