Local boy benefits from new prototype toys

Local boy benefits from new prototype toys

Megan Wilkins, a physical therapist at Meeting Street School, encourages 8-year-old Nathan Horn, of North Providence, as he uses a special controller to speed a toy car toward a set of bowling pins.

PROVIDENCE - Nathan Horn, an 8-year-old from North Providence and the son of James and Sherri Horn, is one of two local students benefiting from new prototype toys developed by Rhode Island researchers to help children with disabilities.

Using a special remote controller, manipulated solely by wrist and lower arm movements, Nathan is strengthening and improving the range of motion in his wrist, along with developing strength and better control, say those behind the toys.

Meeting Street in Providence has partnered with researchers from Brown University, Rhode Island Hospital, and the Hasbro Children's Hospital Rehabilitation Center to develop toys that are intended to one day make therapy more fun for children with disabilities. The prototypes of the toys, which are being used by occupational and physical therapists at Meeting Street, include remote controlled cars and video games, both of which can be manipulated entirely by wrist and lower arm movements.

According to Dr. Megan Wilkins, a physical therapist at Meeting Street, activities aimed at increasing mobility can be frustrating for children, and most rehabilitation devices are designed for adults, not with young people in mind. She and the researchers are working to change that.

The goal, according to Dr. Bethany Wilcox, a research associate in the Department of Orthopaedics at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital, is to use "toys as supplementary therapy motivated by play."

The controllers for each toy are intended to improve the range of wrist motion, strength, and control, which, according to Wilkins, could translate into improvements in activities such as steering a power wheelchair.

With controllers secured to their wrists, Nathan Horn and Phoebe Trahan, both 2nd-graders, raced the cars, donated by Hasbro, Inc., toward a set of bowling pins set up as a target. Phoebe quickly figured out that a snap of the wrist would cause her car to flip over and keep driving.

"The nice thing about using toys to achieve these outcomes is that it's a fun and easy way for families to carry over their child's therapy at home," said Wilkins.

To test the theory, at the end of the play session, each child was given a car to take home for a week. At the end of the week, students and parents provided feedback about their experience to help researchers make adjustments to the design.

Wilcox said the controllers being used by Nathan and Phoebe are the first of their kind to use targeted, joint-specific motions, as opposed to global motion, allowing therapists control over the exact movement they want a child to perform to activate the toys. In the future, this technology may be made available for joints other than those in the wrists, providing children with a wider array of special needs and opportunity to experience play as therapy.