Bringing magic into the lives of children with disabilities

Dido Green in action with one of her young charges

Dido Green in action with one of her young charges

First published in News

My background is in occupational therapy, neuroscience and neurodisability and I’m passionate about helping children with movement disabilities.

Designing interventions that are fun as well as effective is crucial to achieve the best outcomes for children.

So I have developed an innovative programme involving ‘magic’ to improve the lives of children with disabilities.

The programme helps young people with hemiplegia, which is a condition that causes weakness and paralysis on one side of the body.

Because of the nature of hemiplegia, many of the youngsters will only use one hand.

I wanted to create a fun way of encouraging them to use both hands, thus helping with everyday tasks such as doing up coat zips and tying shoelaces which are often a real struggle.

I have run the magic camps every year since 2010. The first was in Tel Aviv and more recently I have collaborated with Breathe Arts Health Research (BAHR).

This is a social enterprise company spin-off from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity in London which funded the initial projects.

Camps are now run together with magicians from the Magic Circle in the UK.

This year, I have been helped by 15 Brookes students studying occupational therapy and physiotherapy. I had the idea for magic camps because I knew that children with movement disorders would respond better to treatment that was enjoyable rather than a dull regime.

The camp format allows us to offer sufficient hours of intervention, consistent with evidence that intensive motor practise is needed to acquire new skills in childhood hemiplegia.

The tricks are fun to learn and become a part of a child’s movement therapy programme. Learning the skilful movements required for successful magic tricks to a professional standard is good exercise for improving the children’s movement skills.

The magic involves using props including ‘magical’ paper clips, ropes, elastic bands and other objects, which requires sleight of hand. Practising these magic tricks helps the children build up strength and dexterity and makes it easier for them to grip things.

A further aim is to help children gain confidence in using their weaker hand.

Due to advances in brain imaging we are able to monitor how children’s brain function changes as they acquire new skills.

Through my research we are developing new techniques to discover how these children’s brains link to their muscles and how their hands talk to one another and what influence intervention has on longer-term outcomes.

The research also shows that children attending the magic camps improved their independence in daily activities involving two hands and this corresponded to a significant reduction in the time parents are needed to support their children.

I am also working to help children with other movement disorders.

My new Detective Club aims to improve movement co-ordination, mental health and confidence in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder, through acquisition of problem solving strategies.

Anyone interested in learning more about my work can contact me by emailing: dido.green@brookes.ac.uk Dido Green's pioneering work has been included in the Chief Medical Officer’s latest Annual Report as a Government case study.

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