Assistive Technology for Cerebral Palsy refers to devices that enable people with disabilities, to overcome the challenges their conditions present. It is among the best uses of technology.
Several neurological disorders fall under the category of cerebral palsy. Characteristics of these disorders are affected body movement and muscle coordination, that manifests in infancy or early childhood. Among those affected with this problem, a majority are born with it, though it is not usually detected immediately. These problems are caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements. Symptoms are usually detectable before a child reaches 3 years of age. Common signs are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy.
Cerebral palsy has no cure. The objective of treatment is to help children manage their disabilities, so that they may be able to live as normal a life as possible. Treatments usually comprise occupational and physical therapy, speech therapy, drugs to control seizures, relax muscle spasms, and reduce pain; surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities or release tight muscles; braces and other orthotic devices; wheelchairs and rolling walkers; and communication aids such as computers with attached voice synthesizers.
Assistive technology encompasses many devices, with the use of which cerebral palsy patients may become more able, and can achieve greater independence. They may also be better equipped to perform at jobs. According to the Assistive Technology Act, it is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
Devices and their Uses
- Computer equipment (and internet access) are empowering innovations in assistive technology for such patients.
- These computers now come with ergonomic fixed or split keyboards for people with musculoskeletal problems, sophisticated scanning equipment, on-screen keyboards, head operated pointing devices, and voice recognition software. These and other technologies assist people with severe disorders.
- Portable or computer-related devices that can literally “speak”, are helpful to people with speech disabilities.
- Additional devices include equipment, such as alternative pointing devices, and switches can make it easier or possible for a person to use radios, televisions, microwaves, etc.
- Devices are made to assist or replace (to an extent) whichever human function is compromised in the person.
- There are hearing aids and other amplification devices for individuals with hearing loss.
- For those who are blind or have reduced vision, there are refreshable braille displays, braille embossers, portable closed circuit that magnify text or color images 5 to 15 times, screen reader software that provides visual information in audio format, and telecommunication devices that allow a deaf person to converse via the telephone.
- Basic technology includes grab bars in toilets and showers, equipped for people to balance themselves.
- The hi-tech devices include computer boards attached to electronic wheelchairs that allow a person with severe problems to travel in the outside world, and engage it with meaningful words and speech.
- One unfortunate truth is that all these wonderful devices come at a price, and are very expensive at that.
- As the devices are very expensive, different types of public or private funding sources exist.
- An important step to take is to find out what are one’s rights to assistive technology under the law.
- After understanding what a patient’s specific and exact technology needs are, equip yourself with the best strategies to approach funding organizations; and try to seek out funding from more than one source.
- Private sources include private insurance companies and special no-interest or low-interest loan programs from private lenders.
- Loans are offered by government agencies and technology manufacturers.
- Some sources are the Social Security Administration’s PASS (Plan To Achieve Self-Support) program for people receiving SSI or SSDI and civic or service organizations of one’s community (Lions Club, VFW, Rotary Club, etc).
The utmost need for this technology stems from the facts that these patients, though often physically handicapped, do not have reduced mental abilities. This technology can help them overcome physical barriers to get integrated into society, attend school, and have careers. We have glowing examples of people such as the brilliant Stephen Hawking (who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), who lost almost all muscle control many years ago, but with the help of assistive technology devices, went on to make stellar achievements.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.