McGyver those election signs for Schreiber kids

I recently attended a make-and-take seminar entitled “Creating Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes,” and it featured the creative genius of Therese Willkomm, who holds a doctorate in assistive technology and is known as the assistive technology McGyver.

She is a nationally recognized guru for her work in making solutions in minutes using everyday materials. We had the opportunity to work with a variety of materials including acrylic, corner guard, PVC pipe, and Loc-Line hose connectors, as well as a variety of adhesives, fasteners, and tools. We made several items including book and iPad stands, mounts for wheelchairs and table tops, and a universal cuff that can hold a marker, eating utensil, or any other tool for someone with a weak or absent grasp. We even made a hands-free marshmallow shooter (and used it to have a mass marshmallow battle during break).

One of my favorite materials used was corrugated plastic, frequently used to make yard signs like the ones that pop up during election season. Over the years, Therese has fabricated hundreds of solutions using corrugated plastic. The material is strong, inexpensive and easy to work with.

After an election, she asks both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as individual voters to donate their signs rather than discard them. This is a great way to eliminate trash from the environment and reuse it in a way to benefit individuals with disabilities. It’s a win-win situation!

So if you had a sign in your yard and it is now cluttering up your garage, don’t toss it in the trash. Bring it to Schreiber Pediatric, where the occupational therapists can turn it into a desktop iPad or iPhone holder, portable slant board, playing card holder, book holder or mount, or one of a myriad of other solutions for the many children we serve. These solutions can save families a great deal of money that they would otherwise spend on commercially available items.

So put those discarded signs to use, put election season behind you, and help a child with a disability to become more independent today!

Becky Smith is an occupational therapist at Schreiber with more than 26 years of experience in pediatric occupational therapy. She is also a certified infant massage instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage.

Sophia Robles Finds Hope at Schreiber

Since the disease affected Sophia’s legs, she compensated by pulling herself around with her arms and hands. This built strength in her upper body, but from the waist down she was extremely stiff. Her muscles were so tight that she couldn’t roll over until she was a year old, and she needed the assistance of a walker to get around at the age of 2.

The June Smith Center recommended that the Robles bring Sophia to Schreiber Pediatric for more intense therapy.

At Schreiber, Sophia grew socially, as well as physically.

“When we first came to Schreiber, she wouldn’t go near people,” her mother said. “She would start screaming and wouldn’t leave my side.”

As Sophia became comfortable with the surroundings at the Center, she started to relax and open up. Now she responds with a sweet engaging smile to those who talk with her.

Physical therapy was also a challenge at first.

“I tried to stay with her during the therapy sessions,” Her mother recalled, “but she was resisting and crying out for me, and it was too hard for me to be in there. I had to step out of that situation.”

Malexi began waiting outside the therapy room. When Sophia was alone with the therapist, she started to listen and began making progress. But her limited range of movement presented challenges.

Unusual surgery leads to breakthrough
After evaluating Sophia’s condition, an orthopedic doctor recommended she undergo an operation that would release her tight tendons. It was a surgery that is usually not recommended for children under age 7 because it may need to be repeated later in life. However, in Sophia’s case, a CT scan revealed that her hips were so restricted that they would likely become dislocated if she didn’t have the surgery sooner. So, at the age of 4, Sophia underwent the operation, which required her to be in a cast from the waist down for six weeks.

Before the operation, Sophia’s mother had trouble changing her diaper because she couldn’t bend her legs. After surgery, the cast continued to make diaper changes difficult. But, when the cast was removed, both Malexi and Sophia were overwhelmed by its success.

“I heard her saying ‘open…close’ over and over,” Malexi recalled. “She was laying on the bed, saying ‘open, close’ as she moved her legs back and forth for the first time.”

Sophia started light therapy, which became more intense as her body healed. The therapist was able to teach Malexi how to do the exercises with her at home. With the help of therapy, Sophia increased her mobility, and in one year was walking without the assistance of a walker.

Sophia’s success opened the door to a lot of changes for her and her family. When she came to Schreiber she could barely sit down.

“She was not flexible at all. Her posture was hunched and her legs wouldn’t straighten when she sat down. They were bent when she stood, also,” Malexi said. “Now she is walking, and she can bend down to pick up something from the floor, and she is running. So she has done a complete 360.”

Although she runs with some difficulty, it is a treasure to see Sophia’s joyful strides down the hall outside the physical therapy room at Schreiber. She will continue to improve both physically and socially, and can look forward to a promising future.