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Virtual play boosts disabled children's self-image

Virtual reality games that enable children with physical challenges to see themselves playing sports can also enhance their self-esteem, says a University of Toronto study.

At the Department of Occupational Therapy, children with cerebral palsy participated in experimental therapy in which the child's image was captured by video camera and inserted into a virtual reality scene on TV, such as a volleyball game. As the balls started moving across the screen, the child could "hit" them across the net by moving his or her arms. Researchers conducting follow-up interviews found the simulated games had a positive impact on the children's belief in their abilities.

"They would say that it didn't matter whether they could do this activity like their able-bodied peers in real life, they could do it their own way in the virtual environment," says occupational therapy professor Denise Reid, who conducted the research with lead author and graduate student Stacey Miller. "They thought they were cool."

The virtual games which included activities such as soccer, snowboarding and making a dance video were designed to both replicate the kind of muscle-strengthening movements required in the children's regular therapy sessions (focusing on the upper body because many of the children used walkers or wheelchairs) and to give them a chance to succeed in types of play they might have difficulty accessing otherwise.

"At this point in time, it's costly but I really do think it's a viable approach to consider in rehabilitation," says Reid, who is now studying the use of virtual reality therapy with elderly stroke patients.


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Contact: Jessica Whiteside
jessica.whiteside@utoronto.ca
416-978-5948
University of Toronto
16-Feb-2004


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