Cerebral palsy can range from very mild cases to cases so severe that the patient is unable to much physically. Common symptoms of cerebral palsy include:
- Poor balance and coordination
- Muscle weakness, tightening, loss of muscular control
- Vision and hearing issues
- Mental disability
Technology offers cerebral palsy patients more options than ever before. Assistive technology refers to the devices designed to help individuals with cerebral palsy lead more productive lives. These devices include computers and low tech objects that assist with speech, mobility, and motor function among other things. Technology opens doors to assist children with cerebral palsy in schools.
Cerebral palsy (CP) sufferers face difficulty dong many things non CP patients take for granted every day. For those who cannot walk and move around freely, mobility devices such as electronic wheelchairs and power scooters give patients with impaired muscle and motor function the ability to move independently. Self-propelled walkers can help patients with milder cases navigate through the home, or even work and school situations. Many new wheelchairs offer technology that allows the user to control movement through a joystick or a switch designed to utilize whatever other form of control the patient can exert. These devices give cerebral palsy patients a sense of freedom and autonomy they have rarely experienced before.
One of the greatest roadblocks for CP patients is the inability to communicate with the outside world. Assistive devices have made it possible for the language barrier to be overcome and even surpassed. Augmentative communication devices are a broad range of technologies that assist patients in communicating effectively. These devices range from a simple picture board representing things in the individual's environment to computerized language synthesizers that mimic speech.
Manual communication boards are inexpensive and can be tailored to meet the daily needs of a CP patient. These non-mechanical boards show pictures and printed words that the patient can point to in order to communicate his or her thoughts. The board is kept in close proximity to the patient who then uses whatever mobility possible to indicate the pictures or words desired.
Computerized equipment can make the act of communication even more effective. For children in school, prerecorded messages on a speech assistant allows the classroom and the teacher to clearly understand the child's thoughts. The messages are played back when the child selects the appropriate button on the device allowing more full participation in daily school activities.
More complex technology allows for the use of a computer screen in products like the Dynavox which displays a series of pictures on a computer screen. The devices will then "speak' the word that the child or the patient with CP desires to be spoken. After training is complete, whole sentences can be formed. The pictures, available in separate folders for different areas of life, can be personalized to the patient's unique situation.
An even more complicated device resembling a computer keyboard stores thousands of words, phrases and sounds that the patient selects in a series to form sentences. Products like this can be fitted with switches in case of a lack of sufficient mobility in the hands and/or fingers. As with electronic mobility devices, this switch can be customized to make use of different motor functions the patient is capable of using.
Controlling the Environment
As technology expands, many new products on the horizon will enable CP patients to become fuller independents than ever before. Environmental Control Systems (ECS) are products than utilize technology to allow a CP patient to turn on and off the lights, control the television or the telephone, and switch on and off the heater or air conditioner in the home. These devices couple remote control technology, pressure switches in the floor, and even laser beams to control the function of everyday appliances and home fixtures. Accessibility switches can be tailored to the patient's abilities. Advances in personal computer devices have made portability and accessibility even more user friendly.
Individuals with cerebral palsy face challenges for the balance of their lifetimes.
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