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Ethan’s Independent Activity Board

Ethan suffered a brain injury at birth causing four limb dystonic cerebral palsy. He is a full-time wheelchair user and has significant difficulties with motor control of his upper limbs. As a result, he does not have access to independent play. He loves ‘fidget’ toys but relies on someone passing him items and struggles to maintain his grasp for long. He enjoys using his left hand to grasp and touch objects.


The Challenge

The request via the OT and his family was for wall-mounted items that he could use independently. Initial suggestions were fidget spinners and a ball-rolling game. It was noted that he was learning to use switching devices at school.

Commercially available items all seemed sized and directed towards younger children. Ethan requires larger more robust items. He can impose considerable force while trying to grasp or interact with items.

The solution

Following an initial visit, I asked the OT to offer some suggestions for play items that would be suitable. From those suggestions, I created a detailed list of things that I thought could be made and an outline for a mobile board on which they would mount. It was agreed to create items in ‘phases’ the first phase consisting of a board with various passive (none electronic) items on. This is shown here.

A free-standing frame was constructed with an aluminium box section tube and a piece of ‘Conti-board’. 3D-printed couplers hold the frame together and the whole thing is mounted on lockable castors. Additionally, straps can be passed around Ethan’s wheelchair to hold it in place. On either side of the board are mounted various items. A large rotating spinner, a set of gears with handles, and a rain noise maker on one side.  On the reverse are hanging balls, a bell, some chains and sprung balls (they oscillate when struck). A large proportion of the parts are 3D printed, while some parts are commercial items e.g. the rain noise maker.

The second phase (already underway) is a similar mobile board with various sections of ‘gutter’ and flexible tube down which balls or even water can run.

The benefit

Ethan can now play with items of his own choosing in front of him. The OT and his parents hope that this will help improve his coordination and dexterity. Ethan is clearly happy with his new toys and gave me his ‘thumbs up’ signal to show that he is enjoying them.

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