Magical tricks may help treat children with locomotor disabilities

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 16, 2010 07:10 hrs

A researcher at Tel Aviv University has found a new approach to help kids with paralysis and motor dysfunction improve their physical skills and inner confidence - magic.

Dr. Dido Green developed an innovative yet remarkably simple series of therapeutic exercises for children and young adults based on sleight-of-hand tricks used by professional magicians.

Green and her magicians used sponge balls, elastics and paper clips to teach the children how to perform the challenging, fun and engaging exercises. "Children with motor disorders like hemiplegia - or paralysis on one side of the body - perform routine exercises with their hands and wrists to be able to carry out basic functions such as opening a door, doing up their zipper, or closing buttons. Not only did the kids get a kick out of the magic tricks, they loved doing the exercises every day," explained Green.

Green is hoping to create summer "magic camps" for disabled children in both the U.K. and Israel, and will further investigate the benefits of magic for improving motor development of children with disabilities.

Her initial research looked at a sample of nine children.

"We had a hunch that learning magic tricks could do wonders for kids' movement problems, but we wanted to see if the kids would actually practice them," said Green.

The children practiced ten minutes a day over four to six weeks, resulting in a significant and measurable change in motor skills. "It was a big enough effect to make us want to marry the concept of magic with more specific treatment regimes important for motor learning," added Green.

In the next part of the study, Green will bridge the worlds of behavioural therapy with science. She plans not only to give a large group of U.K. and Israeli kids intensive magic training to help improve their motor skills, but also to look into their brains to see if there is a neurological effect.

"We'll be using functional MRIs to see how extensive practice - using the magic tricks as motivators - affects centres in the brain. Having information from the MRI can help us see what works, and for how long a treatment regime will need to be carried out to have sustained changes," said Green. (ANI)