ROBOTS THAT HELP YOUNGSTERS TO HELP THEMSELVES
Action Medical Research is certainly earning its place as the ‘Forward Thinking Charity’ with its latest project.
One of its teams has developed a robotic arm to teach co-ordination to children with movement problems.
Whilst it sounds out of this world, it is hoped that the space-age gadget will eventually be rolled out so that all children who have movement difficulties can benefit from it.
Andy Proctor of Action Medical Research said, “Robot technology has come on a long way very quickly, so we are now looking at new ways that it can be used to help children to develop co-ordination.
“It’s especially important for these children to have as much help as possible in learning to control their movements since many find their lives are a constant struggle with simple daily tasks and schoolwork.
“Unsurprisingly this can mean that they get left behind or lose self-confidence.
“The trouble is that there are only limited resources for occupational therapy and some children only get seen once a year.
“This amazing piece of equipment will allow them as much time as they need to practice and re-practice their motor skills and hopefully it will allow them to make discernable improvements quickly.”
Around one in 20 children have Developmental Coordination Disorder (also known as dyspraxia) which is characterised by poor coordination and clumsiness. Often misunderstood, children with the disorder struggle with tasks like writing or tying their shoelace and may be unable to hop, jump or catch a ball.
Dr Mark Mon-Williams from the School of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen, is heading up the Aberdeen based team. He said: “Most of us take straightforward daily tasks for granted - like reaching out to pick up a glass of water for example.
“We can do these things almost without any awareness of thinking about what we are doing. But, for the five percent of children who have movement difficulties, everyday tasks can cause endless problems.
“For some of these children, simply putting on their own coat can seem an impossible hurdle. Understandably this can undermine a child’s self-esteem.
“Initially we will be looking at children with dyspraxia to see if weekly sessions with the robotic arm helps them to develop better co-ordination.
“They will be linked up to the equipment and be given fun exercises and games that are specially designed to help with important everyday movements.
“The robotic system will apply guiding forces to the children’s arms and hands, encouraging appropriate movements and discouraging inappropriate ones.
“It will also monitor how the children move, measuring things like reaction times, the speed of movement and how joint configurations unfold over time.
“Ultimately we believe this ground-breaking new therapy could have exciting ramifications for people with a wide range of disorders, especially cerebral palsy.”
Initially the robot therapy is being trialled at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital. But if proves successful, researchers hope it could be developed into a tool children could practice on at home.
Andrew Proctor added, “This really is a dream team, a combination of world leading experts in psychology, rehabilitation, engineering, child health, computer science and occupational therapy.
“They have expertise in both clinical diagnosis and research work, with children who have special needs, and have published extensively in premier international journals.
“They are working with state of the art technology – it really is groundbreaking, cutting edge work.”
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