It was her love of ballet that led her to work with children who have motor disabilities. The retired dancer, now an occupational therapist, is pioneering a new virtual method to analyze movement patterns in children–and more effectively treat those with debilitating motor disorders.

Dido Green, PhD, of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Occupational Therapy in the School of Health Professionals, Tel Aviv, Israel, is using a virtual tabletop called the Elements System, developed by her partners at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, to "move" kids with disabilities and provide home-based treatments using virtual reality tools. Combining new 3-D exercises with two-dimensional graphical movement games already programmed into the tabletop (which resembles an early video game), she reports success and enthusiasm among her young patients.

"I’ve been working with children with movement disorders for the last 20 years," said Green, in a statement. "By the time I meet these children, they’re sick of us. They’ve been ‘over-therapied,’ and it’s difficult to get them to practice their exercises and prescribed treatment regimes.

"The virtual tabletop appealed to children as young as 3 and as old as 15," she said. "The movement-oriented games allowed them to ‘make music’ and reach targets in ways that are normally neither comfortable nor fun in the therapeutic setting."

Green determined that children with partial paralysis and motor dysfunction resulting from disorders such as cerebral palsy may be helped by giving them a new interface to explore. Building upon earlier research she conducted at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, Green found that virtual reality applications enhance the skill sets learned by her patients.

Coupled with new technology involving 3-D Movement Analysis, a technique she is now integrating into research at Tel Aviv University, Green hopes to develop this virtual tabletop-type game into new and effective therapy treatment regimes.

"Traditional approaches are labor-intensive and their results limited," Green said. "Our research aims to create a complete system for therapist, parent, and child. It could bring daily treatments into the home and provides therapists with a complete solution to track and analyze improvements or setbacks in the most accurate way to date."

In children who attended sessions with her interface for 3 days a week over a period of about 1 month, Green said she found some impressive results. One child with a paralyzed hand was able to perform more complicated movements, culminating in a "eureka!" moment when she opened a door for the first time in her life. The girl was also able to gain control over some motor movements essential for basic life tasks, such as buttoning sweaters, opening doors, or going to the washroom. These are skills some children never develop with current therapy regimes, she said.

In the near future, Green said she hopes to develop the technique for remote rehabilitation, enabling children to practice movements at home with parental supervision. Therapists located elsewhere could log in with a Web cam and computer to coach the students or monitor their progress.

The researcher also plans to analyze brain function using transcranial magnetic brain stimulation. She said that currently, brain function relating to motor activities is analyzed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). But many children are too impatient to sit in an MRI machine, so clinicians need a more accurate means of analyzing movement in children with disabilities to develop individualized therapy regimes, she added.

[Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University]