autism · behavior · children · cognition · creativity · mental health · psychology · technology

Using Play and Technology for Therapy

Griffin Wajda and Juan Pablo Hourcade in Iowa City, IA, play a collaborative-storytelling app.

I truly think technology (and play) are underutilized when it comes to all kinds of therapy, partially because it’s expensive, and partially because people don’t know how to implement it. This article in the Wall Street Journal offers a great example of how people are integrating play AND technology into therapy.

Multitouch technology—which turned smartphones, iPads and other tablet computers into consumer sensations—has a new function: therapy for cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders, as well as a range of developmental disabilities. Researchers from at least three North American universities, including Iowa, are developing therapeutic applications for multitouch devices. Games developed by the Scientists’ Discovery Room Lab at Harvard University, and by University of Alberta researcher Michelle Annett, encourage children with cerebral palsy and stroke victims to stretch their range of upper arm and wrist motion.

“It’s a very motivating tool for the patients. It’s visual, the feedback is instant and it’s fun,” said Isabel Henderson, vice president of Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton, Canada, where games on a touch-screen table are part of stroke victims’ physical rehabilitation.

The new apps offer patients engaging ways to address their medical conditions over the long term, said Quentin Ranson, an occupational therapist at the Alberta hospital. They also could help reduce the time patients need to spend in expensive traditional therapy, Mr. Ranson said.

Children with cerebral palsy—a group of disorders caused by brain damage before or shortly after birth—work to improve their motor skills and coordination through repetitive exercises like wiping a cloth across a table, stringing beads on a pipe cleaner or throwing a ball back and forth. Patients recovering from stroke do much of the same, stacking cones and flipping cards to help them lift their arms against gravity.

more via the Wall Street Journal.

This is just one example of how using play and the right tools can encourage development and healing.

architecture · behavior · brain · design · emotion · environment · happiness · health · mental health · Nature · psychology

Using Nature Therapy in Prisons and Hospitals

I’m seeing lots of different examples of people using nature to help heal, from the physically injured to those with aggression issues cut off from the rest of the world.

For example, I was just listening to a program this weekend on the local NPR station about a biologist at Evergreen State College who is greenifying a local prison, as well as working with inmates to grow new prairie grass and frogs (I can’t find the original story but here’s some similar coverage):

The frog rearing program here pairs inmates with scientists from the Evergreen State College as part of the Sustainable Prisons Project. So far, the frogs grown at Cedar Creek Correctional Center are doing better than those grown by professional zoologists.

LIESL PLOMSKI, graduate student, The Evergreen State College says, “They have a lot more time here to care for the frogs that a zoo wouldn’t have. I mean they’re here all day with them, so they change the water frequently. They feed them more frequently than a zoo could ever do.”

And then this morning stumbled upon this story:

Henning Larsen Architects recently won an international design competition with their plans for the new Odense University Hospital in Denmark. Situated close to the city center amidst a scenic old-growth forest, the OUH will use the surrounding landscape as a way to heal its patients. The holistic facility features a light footprint that incorporates nature at every turn to create an environment replete with peace and serenity. Daylight floods in through the glass-lined buildings, and rainwater will be collected to feed the many ponds and surrounding landscape.

more via Denmark’s New Odense Hospital is a Healing City of Glass Amid the Forest | Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World.

I am blown away by all the different applications of nature into therapy and recovery practices.

autism · behavior · brain · children · emotion · learning · Mental · psychology · robotics · Social

AP News: Kaspar the friendly robot helps autistic kids

I have heard of this kind of therapy before, how autistic kids tend to respond better to robots teaching them emotions and proper social responses; the robot acts as a sort of bridge, or neutral third party for the kid:

STEVENAGE, England (AP) – Eden Sawczenko used to recoil when other little girls held her hand and turned stiff when they hugged her. This year, the 4-year-old autistic girl began playing with a robot that teaches about emotions and physical contact – and now she hugs everyone.

“She’s a lot more affectionate with her friends now and will even initiate the embrace,” said Claire Sawczenko, Eden’s mother.

The girl attends a pre-school for autistic children in Stevenage, north of London, where researchers bring in a human-looking, child-sized robot once a week for a supervised session. The children, whose autism ranges from mild to severe, play with the robot for up to 10 minutes alongside a scientist who controls the robot with a remote control.

The robot, named Kaspar, is programmed to do things like smile, frown, laugh, blink and wave his arms. He has shaggy black hair, a baseball cap, a few wires protruding from his neck, and striped red socks. He was built by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire at a cost of about 1,300 pounds (US$2,118).

http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_6418/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=X0CCVnY5

It’s also nice to hear a story about robots helping people, rather than the usual scenarios we hear and see like from Matrix and Terminator.