Monthly Archives: August 2012

AT Meets America’s Pastime

A couple of years ago AT Mom and I were invited to bring J to watch a friend play Challenger League Baseball.  J was absolutely hooked.  From the moment we arrived and even before we were fully settled into the bleachers, J was glued to the fence watching all of these kids playing baseball.  J had already been exposed to MLB on television (that’s another story for another time), but this was the first time J got to see other kids, including kids with similar challenges, playing the game.  I think the kids who happened to be wheelchair users captured J’s imagination the most.  One of our favorite pictures of J is one that AT Mom captured of J standing in a gait trainer that is pressed up against the fence.  J’s head is beautifully upright watching the play on the other side of the fence.

Unfortunately, J was too young to play at that time.  A couple of years later though, J got to play baseball for the Blue Jays.  The first couple of games made it apparent that J’s favorite part of the game was batting.  J’s favorite position was Designated Hitter – I guess it was a good thing we were on an American League team.  Winking smile

Fielding was a difficult part of the game for J.  Being a chair user added some challenges to fielding the ball, but those could be overcome with a fielding aide (AT Dad had to dust of my old baseball skills).  However, more than that was the impact of J’s Cerebral Palsy on wearing a glove.  The nature of J’s tone made wearing a typical baseball glove inappropriate.  I took my lead from some of the other parents and help J put a baseball glove on one of the armrests of J’s wheelchair.  I knew there had to be a better way so during one of the games I started talking with some of those other parents about ways to adapt a baseball glove for our kids.

The solution that I came up with was based on an adaptation done by J’s OT I wrote about earlier (AT <3s Velcro).  The simple idea was to attach some hook Velcro to the inside of the heel of the glove.  J could then wear the left Velcro sensitive splint when fielding.  The hook Velcro sticks to the splint and J does not need to hold the glove on.

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J’s adapted glove.  You can see a bit of the white hook Velcro pad.

I happened to choose some industrial hook Velcro.  I was hoping that the “industrial” nature would include a strong adhesive that would help keep the Velcro attached to the glove.  Also, the hook side of the Velcro is made up of what appears to be a lot of tiny pyramids – so it is not as abrasive against bare skin.

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Opening up the glove for a better view of the white hook Velcro pad.

I cut a patch wide enough to cover most of the inside of the heel of the glove.  This would increase the surface area of the Velcro touching the Velcro sensitive splint.  As an added benefit it has meant I have to be less precise when helping J put on the glove during those days that J’s tone is less cooperative.

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A better picture of the hook Velcro pad attached to the inside of the heel of the glove.

The glove I had purchased for J at the beginning of the season was a tee ball glove that had a wrist strap that was fastened by Velcro itself.  That meant I could open up the wrist strap completely when helping J put on the glove, exposing my Velcro adaptation for easy use.

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Helping J put on the glove before taking the field.

Now during inning changes instead of putting J’s fielding glove on an armrest of J’s wheelchair I help J put it on.  I start by helping J put on the left Velcro sensitive hand splint.  Then I open the wrist strap of the baseball glove and help J place J’s palm centered on the hook Velcro pad inside the baseball glove.  I then help J tuck J’s thumb inside the glove.  Finally, I close the wrist strap of the baseball glove and help J tuck fingers inside the baseball glove.  J seems to like keeping that pointer finger outside the glove like the pros do.  Smile

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J wearing the glove and ready to take the field.  Note the pointer finger outside the glove just like the pros!

We then wheel out to the field and take our position (usually around second base).  During the inning it is not uncommon for J’s fingers to come out of the glove.  That would have resulted in the glove falling off in the past; however, thanks to the Velcro adaptation the glove stays on J’s hand.

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J ready to field any grounders towards second base.

Now when we are in the field, J and I charge every ball put into play towards second base.  We cover second base and back up first base on just about every other play.  With all that running we no longer spend any time going back to pick up a dropped glove.  Fielding has become a bit more exciting for J with all the running and activity; however, J still prefers to bat.  I guess I know where J falls on the age old Designated Hitter debate.  It looks like the AT household will be an American League household.

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J taking a break between batters.


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AT <3’s Velcro

Today I want to share a particular piece of Assistive Technology that is the foundation of a number of adaptations in our house.  First, let me give you a little background on J’s disability.  J happens to have athetoid Cerebral Palsy.  J’s particular picture means that all limbs are affected, muscle tone is variable, and often there are extra or involuntary movements.  One half of J’s body tends to be higher tone, and the other side tends to be more variable.

The different tone pictures make grabbing and holding things particularly challenging.  The higher tone half of J’s body has an easier time grabbing and holding something.  However, when the muscles in the hand contract to grasp an object all of the muscles in the arm contract as well.  This results in J holding the object close to J’s chest.  Also, that side of the body has a harder time letting go.  J often needs help releasing objects on that side.  The more variable tone half of J’s body has an easier time releasing objects; however, that side has a much harder time maintaining a grasp on something.  When J tries to gab something with this side it often times results in accidentally dropping or “throwing” the object.

A couple of years ago J’s Occupational Therapist focused on developing a strategy to provide J with a functional grasp.  More to the point, J’s OT wanted to help J participate in activities like coloring that require maintaining a grasp for a period of time.  That brings me to the star of today’s post:  J’s Velcro sensitive gloves.

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AT Dad’s hand next to J’s left glove.

J’s OT worked with the folks at Benik who make neoprene braces of different types.  The OT decided on a custom splint for both hands (I am only showing the left one in pictures here).  Most of J’s fingers are exposed so J can grasp with those fingers.  Each glove partially covers J’s pointer finger and thumb to help encourage a pincher grasp, and/or pointing when appropriate.

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J modeling the left Benik glove.

The outside of the glove is a Velcro sensitive material.  This means that J can now grasp anything we can attach hook Velcro (the rough side):  crayons, drum sticks, markers, paint brushes, and baseball gloves are just a few of the items we have adapted so far.

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Another angle of J’s left hand in the glove.

The gloves do have a metal stay on the underside that helps keep J’s wrist at a functional angle.  The only down side is that they are made of neoprene and can get a little hot.  After wearing the glove for five minutes, J’s hand can get very hot and sweaty.

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The bottom of a Velcro adapted crayon.

I can’t say how J feels about the gloves because we don’t focus on the gloves.  Whenever I put the gloves on J is more interested in the actual activity.  I guess that makes the gloves a very successful piece of AT, the kind that fades into background and does not become the activity itself.

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J “holding” the crayon.  J’s fingers are grasping the crayon, but it is really held on to the glove with the Velcro.

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To Boldly Go Where No AT Has Gone Before!

Awhile back J took an interest in science and, specifically, “star gazing”.  AT Mom responded with an amazing art project that resulted in glow in the dark stars (arranged in real constellations) and 3-D glow in the dark planets hanging above J’s bed.  (It really is a cool project.)  AT Dad, on the other hand, responded by rewiring the launch controller for a model rocket to be switch activated.


NOTE:  Since the launch controller includes safety mechanisms to prevent unintended launches and rewiring the controller needs to be done in a way to not bypass these safety mechanisms, I will not be describing how to rewire the controller.  Consider this post as inspiration for what can be switch adapted.  If you have the technical knowledge of circuitry the rewiring is not difficult; however, it is easy to get wrong resulting in unintended launches.  (Which you will find out happened to me this initial attempt.)

This is an AT project that was stretched over a number of weeks.  Most of that time was just waiting for the time to build the model rocket together and then waiting for a good launch opportunity.  (Our first two planned launches were cancelled due to rain.)

The project started with a trip to the local hobby store.  J and I went up and down the aisles looking for a science related project for home.  I would take something off the shelf (take a quick look to make sure I had an idea of how J would participate) and then ask J if it was something J wanted to try.  We tried various science kits (solar car, potato clock, etc.), electric trains (which I was hoping for since I had some cool ideas for connecting a train set to J’s eye gaze system), and a few others.  Finally, I offered a model rocket and J’s face lit up.  We had our science project!

Before purchasing the kit I talked with the guy at the hobby store.  He gave me some great ideas about launch locations and informed me about local model rocket clubs / associations.  I asked about switch adapting the launch controller.  I got the response I expected, a confused look followed by something like “that sounds cool.”  Since the launcher worked by pressing a button I was highly confident I could put a switch connector in parallel to the button, so we bought the kit and headed home.

A few weeks passed, ever so often I would take out the model rocket kit and imagine J pressing a switch to launch the rocket.  I got some time to focus on the launch controller and began to take it apart.  I actually had to get out the Dremel and cut away some of the plastic to get at the circuitry.  It took a little finesse but I got the launcher working the way I thought it should (I was not going to connect it to an engine until launch day).

Later that week J and I found some time to actually construct the Taser model rocket.  J helped me follow the directions and showed me with eye pointing where the different parts went together.  When the rocket and launch pad were fully constructed (and all glue was dried), J and I set it up on the floor and simulated a few launches (AT Dad lifting the rocket up the launch post).

A few more weeks passed, every so often J and I would excitedly simulate a couple of launches in the house.  We planned on a Friday afternoon launch, but were foiled by a summer rain.  Not big rain, but enough to make me pull the launch for that day.  I told J we were official rocket scientists now because we had a launch scrubbed by weather.  Smile

We rescheduled the launch for the following Friday afternoon.  But a week later we were foiled by another light rain.  So another couple of weeks needed to pass before our next launch window.

Then came a beautiful Thursday afternoon (I wasn’t going to tempt another Friday afternoon Smile).  J, J’s Papa, and I headed out to a local sports field complex for the launch.  I set up the launch pad, inserted the engine into the rocket, slid it onto the launch pad, connected the launch controller to the rocket, connected J’s switch to the launch controller, inserted and depressed the safety key (arming the launch controller), told J to press the switch when ready, J pressed the switch, and ….


I removed the safety key and disconnected J’s switch from the launch controller.  Checking everything I found one of the alligator clips had disconnected from the rocket engine.  I reconnected the alligator clip, reconnected J’s switch, inserted and depressed the safety key (arming the launch controller), told J to press the switch when ready, J pressed the switch, and ….


I removed the safety key and disconnected J’s switch from the launch controller. Checking everything I found that the primer was broken so it could not start the engine.  I inserted a new primer into the engine, reconnected the alligator clip, reconnected J’s switch, inserted and depressed the safety key (arming the launch controller), FFFFFFFFFFFFFISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!

The rocket launched when I pressed the safety key.  This should have only armed the launch controller.  We watched the rocket fly a couple hundred feet up before deploying its parachute and floating back to the ground.  I turned and asked J if that was neat and did J see the rocket.  Then I turned my attention to the launch controller.  I deduced that in my rewiring of the controller I unintentionally created a short that fully closed the circuit when depressing the safety key.

We had one more primer and two more engines, so we could do one more launch.  I retrieved the rocket, repacked the parachute, inserted the engine into the rocket, slid it onto the launch pad, connected the launch controller to the rocket, connected J’s switch to the launch controller, inserted the safety key (but did not depress it yet), told J to press the switch when ready, J pressed the switch (and I depressed the safety key at the same time), and ….


A second successful launch!  I asked J how J liked the rocket.  J smiled.  I learned a couple of things that I will change for next time (and there will be a next time).  First, I need to get another launch controller and do a better job of rewiring it.  If I cannot do a better job of rewiring an existing controller, I will have to construct my own from scratch.  Second, prior to launch I will tilt J’s chair back to full tilt – making it easier for J to watch the rocket fly above us.  Third, for the class of engine I used I now know I can get away with a launch area of two soccer fields wide (given a relatively calm wind).

When I do have a follow up launch, I will make sure to share the details of that experience and provide select details from my (hopefully) successful adaptation of a rocket launch controller.

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A Midsummer Night’s AT

Awhile back J took an interest in science and, specifically, “star gazing”. AT Mom responded with this amazing art project.  While it may not technically be Assistive Tech, it is pretty darn cool.  Sometimes it really is just about discovering our children’s interests and making those things accessible to their imagination.  Planting a seed, or a spark, of creativity.  This is one of those projects.

Back to J’s interest in “star gazing”.  J’s school was currently working on a theme that involved “star gazing” and J was really interested in the activities at school.  Also, late at night we would allow J to watch some quiet time television as part of our bedtime routine.  The channel we watched (PBS Sprout) was running a particular commercial pretty regularly for “Dream Lites”.  Every time the song came on, J would quiet down and pay special attention to the commercial.

For those that do not know Dream Lites, they are a series of stuffed animals that have colored LEDs inside and a hard shell on top that has stars cut out of it.  When you turn them on, the LEDs turn on in a changing color pattern (yellow, green, blue – I think) and project stars onto the ceiling.  This gave AT Mom an idea.  What if we put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling for J to sleep under?

I chuckled and thought it was a great idea (little did I know what would happen next).  AT Mom was not finished.  A couple of days later some packages arrived.  They included a couple of glow-in-the-dark star sets as well as a 3D glow-in-the-dark solar system pack.

Now I knew I was in a little bit of trouble. Smile

AT Mom described her idea to me.  Using a tri-fold poster board (think science fair display), we would draw out (by hand) the constellations in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer night sky.  We would put glow-in-the-dark stars in place on the constellations, and add a few extra to fill the sky.  We would then attach the planets in the correct order, and somewhat proportional distance from the center of the board as if they were orbiting the center.  (For those detail oriented and perfectionists out there, we would use one distance scale for the inner planets and another for the outer planets.)

It was a great project and J loved it.  The solar system came with diagrams of the night sky of the two hemispheres in summer and winter.  This is what gave AT Mom the idea of being so accurate.

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Getting started on the project.  The Northern Hemisphere Summer diagram came with the solar system set.  The big star is the center and represents the sun.

Of course I took the accuracy a bit further.  I asked AT Mom to be sure and label the four corners with the cardinal directions from the diagram.  That allowed me to mount the project to the ceiling with the proper compass alignment.  (Have we lost you yet?)  AT Mom did all of the drawing of the constellations and some of the glow-in-the-dark star application.  I followed her drawing attaching the stars.  J kept us in line with smiles and encouragement.

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Finished with the constellations and stars.  Now to hang the planets.

When we finished with the constellations it was time to attach the planets.  AT Mom again led the way by doing the distance scaling and putting dots where she wanted each planet to hang (labeling the dots reducing that chance that AT Dad would hang the planets in the wrong order).  I cut 9 pieces of fishing line to the approximate same length  I attached each of these lines to a planet on one end (each planet had a loop just for this purpose) and a toothpick on the other.  I poked a hole at each dot AT Mom drew for me and pushed the toothpick attached to the right planet through each hole.  I could adjust the hang length of each planet by winding the fishing line around the toothpick.  When I had the hang lengths I liked, I used blue masking tape to fix the toothpicks flat in place (just in case).

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Planets added.  AT Mom took this photo from underneath while I held it up outside.  Yes, there are nine planets.  AT Mom and I still count Pluto – don’t be a Pluto Hater!

Then came hanging the project over J’s bed.  I did that one afternoon as a surprise for J.  I used the hangers commonly used to hang bathroom mirrors.  I used a total of 11.  The first 10 were because of the tri-fold presentation board.  I used 4 on each long side (2 on each center fold side, 1 on every short fold side), and 1 on each short side.  The eleventh was to reinforce a fold that had started to tear.  It was a “simple” process of using my compass to find magnetic North, holding the project up to the ceiling with the correct cardinal orientation, having AT Mom trace the outside of the project onto the ceiling, taking down the project, and attaching the hangers to the ceiling using drywall anchors.

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Here it is attached to the ceiling above J’s bed.  I used mirror hangers.

I know that to many people this may seem like a little over the top for an art project.  However, it only took J’s first reaction to staring up from bed at the stars and solar system overhead to make the effort worth it.  When we turned out the lights so J could see it all glow…  Pure joy!

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The view from J’s pillow.

J now enjoys a view of the summer night sky every night.  I have to admit that I get a kick of J’s joy every time I see it myself.  Oh, and remember the “Dream Lites” that helped start this whole thing?  The next time Nana and Papa came to visit, they brought J a little gift – a giraffe that projects even more stars on the ceiling.  Thank you Nana and Papa!

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Pipe Insulation–It’s Not Just For Insulating Pipes!

I was hoping to get to my second post a bit quicker than this.  Thankfully my delay in posting was due to a great visit from Nana and Papa and nothing medical in nature.  For my second post I though I would keep to the low-tech theme.

The Background

When we (my wife, J’s team, and I) ordered J’s wheelchair we included a tray.  We wanted J to have a surface both for activities and to help J prop into an upright position.  Due to J’s big (and sometimes uncontrolled) movements padding of that tray is very important.  The tray we choose had a clear hard plastic surface with a Velcro attachable pad.

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J’s tray without the padded cover.  Note the black lip around the edge.

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J’s tray with the padded cover.

The Problem

The problem with the tray was the lip around the outside.  You can see the black lip in the above pictures around the sides and front of the tray.  This lip’s purpose was to help contain activities onto the tray and reduce what would fall off onto the floor.  A good intention; however, it is very hard and has a pretty abrupt edge.  Combined with J’s movements and it resulted in bruises on J’s forearms.  We absolutely needed a padding solution  and fast!

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A close up of the hard edge.  Notice the abrupt shape of the top.

The Solution

This is one of those solutions that is one of those AT Dad gambles that turned out to be a Grand Slam.  While my wife, J’s PT, and I discussed different padding solutions versus various extensions to the tray to make it harder for J to strike the hard border, I proposed pipe wrap insulation as an easy (and inexpensive) solution.  AT Mom was a little hesitant.  I think she was concerned about how it would look.  After all, J would have the tray on most of the time and this would be a very visible modification.

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Two different types of pipe wrap insulation.  The black (top) one is rubber, the gray (bottom) is polyethylene.

Here comes the gamble – while AT Mom was at work one day, I ran out to the local hardware store and obtained a few different 6 foot lengths of pipe wrap insulation. I measured out a piece, cut it to length, and attached it to J’s tray. Not only did it cover and soften that lip, but it provided and even higher lip to help keep activities contained on J’s tray. It looked good to me, but the Grand Slam came when AT Mom got home from work. She took one look at it and reacted … “That actually looks good!”

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Close up of me attaching the pipe wrap insulation.  The greenish plastic is the tape covering the adhesive.

The Results

This is one of those modifications where the actual results far out  performed my expectations.  In fact, I think that this performed so well that AT Mom gave me a little more latitude in attempting a few of my more “interesting” ideas since then (yes, I will be adding some of those in future posts too).

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J grabbing onto the softer, gentler edge of the tray.

Not only does J have a softer edge to protect against those forearm bruises, but it is actually a softer edge to grab onto.  The tray’s lip is now bigger and better prevents activities from being accidentally swiped onto the ground.  According to AT Mom, it does not look half bad either! 

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Close up of how the pipe wrap insulation covers the tray’s original abrupt edge.

For those readers interested in replicating this at their home, here are some details. I recommend using the self sealing type of pipe wrap. This type is split down the middle and has adhesive on the split edges. You attach it by removing the plastic tape covering the adhesive and simply press it in place.

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J’s tray with the new pipe wrap insulation and padded cover.

Using the search term “self seal pipe wrap insulation” on returns a price range of $1.64 – $7.25 per 6 foot length (the results you see that cost more than $100.00 are per carton, not per 6 foot length). The price difference depends on the pipe diameter (1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, 1 inch) and the material (polyethylene or rubber). The pictures on this post are using the 1/2 inch rubber pipe wrap. I am actually replacing the 1/2 inch polyethylene wrap. Both work very well to pad the edges. The rubber has a bit more give to it and looks cleaner (smooth black finish instead of rough gray finish). My wife’s first reaction to the new rubber wrap was “I like that one more.”

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One more final shot of the end result.

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