Therapy plus fun: new gaming system for kids with cerebral palsy

By / 5th of June, 2014
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TWO young Adelaide researchers have developed a computerized gaming system aimed at improving physical and psychological health in children with cerebral palsy.

The system consists of a novel orb-shaped controller – nicknamed Orby – and an interactive tablet-style menu system along with 15 interactive and engaging 2-D and 3-D games.

“We think this gaming system can improve sensory function and self-confidence in children with cerebral palsy, as well as aiding family dynamics,” said David Hobbs, leader on the project and an engineer and PhD candidate at Flinders University.

“We believe it may lead to improved motor function – that is, muscle performance – in the children as well.”

“Parents are reporting that the game is increasing socialisation amongst siblings.”

One of the top young scientists involved in this week’s Medical Research Week in Australia, David presented his study at the Australian Society for Medical Research South Australia conference yesterday.

His colleague Max Hughes – who designed the Orby controller – recently won the 2014 Hills Young Australian Designer of the Year and a $10,000 prize.

Cerebral palsy is a developmental disorder and the most common form of childhood physical disability in Australia. Although most often associated with changes in movement and posture, cerebral palsy can also reduce function in sensory nerves.

“Children with cerebral palsy often have one side more severely affected in a physical sense than the other,” said David. “However, we know that their so-called ‘good hand’ often has a degree of sensory impairment as well.”

This can show up in many ways, including a reduced ability to tell hot from cold, to have a poor awareness of where your hand or fingers are located, or to be uncertain of how softly or firmly to grip items.

“If we can help children with cerebral palsy improve their sensory system through gaming, it will allow them to get better use from that hand and arm,” said David.

This may lead to greater independence in the children, such as being able to get dressed alone or to use a keyboard.

With his software and hardware package now developed, David is near completion of his first trial of the new gaming system.

“Children aged between 5-15 years and appearing on South Australia’s cerebral palsy register were invited to participate in the study,” he said. “Twenty eight children who were found have a degree of sensory dysfunction associated with their cerebral palsy are now participating in the trial.”

The study is collecting data relating to the sensory performance of the children before and after using the games, as well as the impact the system has on individual and family well-being.

“Parents are reporting that the game is increasing socialisation amongst siblings,” said David. “Families and children are rating the system very highly.”

The gaming system may also hold promise for rehabilitation of adults after stroke or acquired brain injury.

The University of South Australia and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network are collaborators on the project.


The Lead South Australia story on design award: Max Hughes named Young Australian Designer of the Year for videogame controller for disabled youth

Key contacts

David Hobbs Lecturer/PhD Candidate, School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics Flinders University
61 8 8201 3167 david.hobbs@flinders.edu.au