SELF-CARE & INDEPENDENCE
Your child will naturally want to become more independent as they reach kindergarten and school. They will want to show that they can do everyday tasks like tying shoelaces, managing buttons and zips, tying hair, brushing teeth and eating independently.
Many parents say their child is adaptable and resilient, they find their own way of doing things. Some parents have found that occupational therapy, a prosthesis or assistive devices have helped their child gain independence.
Considering Assistive Or Adaptive Devices
What is the difference between assistive technology and an adaptive device?
Assistive technology is an umbrella term for the wide range of systems and devices intended to help people with disabilities to meet their everyday needs with little assistance.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) take their definition of Assistive Technology from the World Health Organisation, which deems it to be:
‘Any device or system that allows individuals to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed.’
Whereas an adaptive device assists a disabled or impaired individual in accomplishing typical activities of daily living, for example, eating, dressing or writing.
A prosthesis is an example of assistive technology that can help your child play sport whereas a button hook is an example of an adaptive device that can help your child manage buttons.
You may be concerned about how your child will adapt to everyday tasks and this is where your OT can guide you in what devices they can try out.
The suggestions below include Independent Living Centres Australia as a source of information on selected devices and gadgets.
- Cutlery – Adapted cutlery like angled spoons and forks make it easier to eat.
Check out this Tying Up Shoelaces activity as a prompt for your child
Check out Aussie Hands member Ben’s shoe tying tip
Check out Hannah’s One-Handed Shoe Tying
- Tying hair – a one handed hair tie helps tie hair into a ponytail or it can be used as a headband.
Check out Jessica’s One-Handed Hair Tying
- Writing – pencil grips can assist with writing plus see this Developing a Pencil Grip fact sheet by the Department of Occupational Therapy, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
- School bag with wheels – can help if your child cannot get a bag on their back.
- Paper weight – can help with holding down worksheets and books.
- Using a keyboard – There are several resources available to assist children with hand differences to learn computer keyboard skills. This can involve modified methods of typing or modified keyboards.
- One-handed keyboards making schoolwork easier
- Ability Technology is a non-profit organisation based in Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra, Australia available to assist people with a disability with the use of computer and home control technology.
- Spectronics inclusive learning technologies is a Brisbane based company which supplies special needs software and technology.
- Five Finger Typist is a typing tutor for people who want to learn to type with one hand. It teaches the accepted keyboarding technique for one-handed touch typing on the standard (QWERTY) keyboard. Developed by SoftDawn Software, a Melbourne based company.
- Rulers – can sometimes be difficult to manage so this non-slip ruler from the Australian Ruler Co. with its sticky rubber ridges underneath and also a raised centre can help.
Here’s a Self-Care & Independence activity for your child
Ask your child to choose a task they would like to learn to do and they can use this Self-Care & Independence activity to help them make their own step-by-step plan to achieve their goal.
Considering a prosthesis
At different times in your child’s life you or your child may wish to trial a prosthesis. A prothesis may be considered to give them flexibility and increase their confidence. Seeing their friends or classmates having fun bike riding, skipping rope, playing a musical instrument or cooking may also motivate your child to let you know that they want to try new activities.
A prosthesis may also be worn for aesthetic, social, emotional and identity reasons. Ultimately, it will come down to your child’s personal preference and individual needs, which may change at different life stages.
In a study by Vasluian et al. (2013), one 16-year-old girl who wears a prosthetic said: ‘When I play soccer, I have my prosthesis on…I have the feeling that I hae better balance with it [the prosthesis] on and that I can manage better if I fall.
In the same study, an 11-year-old boy who doesn’t wear a prosthetic said: ‘I never wanted it [the prosthesis] before, because I considered it a fake hand…I’m not ashamed about it [the affected hand].’
A prosthetist can work with you and your child to design a prosthesis that best suits your child’s needs and will continue to review and adjust this as they grow. An occupational therapist with specific experience in upper limb difference, will work with the prosthetist to determine what the psychological and functional goals for the prosthesis prescription are.
Prosthetist Tom Clingin provides some helpful suggestions:
‘There is a lot of training involved in using prosthetic devices and motivation may waiver at certain life stages.
- Define goals as this will guide where the assessment may lead, for example, what tasks or activities does your child want to do?
- Define functional limitations that are related back to the goals. This can determine how a prosthetic device can help bridge that gap to help your child reach their goals.
- It is important to involve a multi-disciplinary team during assessment and prosthetic training. For example, an occupational therapist can assess your child at home and potentially at school and offer advice on what device, prosthetic or other aids, they may require.
- Kids goals will keep changing and their prosthetic device will have to change and adapt with that.
- Accept that this is a long journey, a lifelong journey for your child.
- Please contact your local prosthetist for personalised advice as these suggestions are very general in nature.’
You can find a prosthetist through a Limb Difference Clinic or your local doctor. Alternatively, you can search for a prosthetist through the Australian Orthotic Prosthetic Association.
Aussie Hands Member Mat Bowtell and FREE 3D HANDS
By combining his desire to help others and engineering skills, Mat began his mission to develop low cost hands and assistive devices using 3D printing technology and setting up the Australian based charity FREE 3D Hands.
Mat’s designs and adjustments have further developed by getting involved with the Aussie Hands community and learning that people may not necessarily want a hand but a skipping rope attachment, tennis ball thrower or something to help them play the piano instead. Read more about Mat in Mat Bowtell of FREE 3D Hands creating joy, combining his altruism and engineering expertise.