By Tara Thompson
There’s no doubt about it, therapy toys and equipment are super-expensive and as a special needs parent you find you want ALL OF THE THINGS.
So many times I have been to appointments with my daughter and thought ‘wow, we need that at home’, but the reality is, money doesn’t grow on trees (if only), funding is often limited and has already been allocated to the never ending list of must-haves. As a result, lately I have been searching for equipment alternatives and have found some great ‘therapy hacks’ that have been working for us. My criteria is cheap, easy to make and effective.
Take a look at what we’ve been using for my daughter who has cerebral palsy:
I already had an exercise step at home (Kmart $20) – it wasn’t really getting a workout from me but has definitely been put to good use with our home therapy. We have used it for sit to stand activities, stepping up and over and to practice weight shifting with one leg off and one on while engaging in an activity. It could also be used for tummy time play and high kneeling.
Peanut gym ball
I picked up a peanut gym ball from Kmart for $4 (bargain!) and we use it often. Willow loves it and always gets the giggles and has no idea I’m actually doing some physio with her. We use this to work on core and balance. I often set an activity up to engage her while she sits and balances on it.
Another idea is to have them lay back on it, assist them to pick things up off the floor and then use their core muscles to sit up and pass it to you. An alternative activity we do is for Willow to sit against it standing, she balances and bounces on it and then gains momentum to stand independently.
I have found the hula hoop great for practicing walking and really tuning into their balance. You can hold the opposite side of the hoop and move it according to your child’s needs to assist them in balancing and remaining upright. It’s also a great therapy tool for children that might have trouble holding on with a particular hand as it gets them to open and grasp.
These are definitely up there with one of my favourite things to use for physio at home. I have found so many ways to incorporate them and the best part is you can change and adapt play activities easily to keep them interested and entertained. Ways in which I have used them include: –
Making a barricade by lining them up so Willow has to stand to throw things over the top (one stand out was when Willow and her sister threw socks at each other over the top of the chairs while we worked on sit to stand).-
Side stepping, I line the chairs up against a wall for her to side step along. Activity ideas for this are endless.
Another way we have used them is by spreading them out to encourage Willow to have to take one of two steps in between them. I end up moving the chairs further away as she gets more confident and her body warms up (one favourite activity was when we played shops, each chair had things on them and I was the customer. She had to move around the chairs to get the things I wanted).
Finally, whenever we incorporate dining chairs I always get Willow to help me pack them away, this consists of her holding onto the base of the chair and helping me push it back to the table.
Willow is a mad doll lover but I haven’t been able to find a pram that doesn’t tip and cost a fortune. For her birthday I brought her one and attached some weighted ankle straps to the base. I found four weights for $12 (another bargain!). This makes the pram heavy enough that it doesn’t tip and it also helps her to slow those steps down.
Cube floating wall shelves
This is perhaps one of my favourite therapy hacks. Willow often uses wooden boxes during her CME physio sessions and they are a great tool to get her to practice stepping in and out while bringing much needed awareness to her right/left reciprocal movement patterns. For at home, I picked up a 3 pack of wooden floating wall shelves for $15 and they work just as well.
Willow often uses one of these during therapy to work on core strength and bringing awareness to her right arm. They are super expensive to buy from therapy sites but his ‘creeper’ (board with wheels that mechanics lay on to work underneath cars) works just as well and it was only $15. Willow lays on her tummy and it requires the use of both of her arms to move it around. It’s super easy to incorporate it into many play situations.
Wooden ladders are useful in coordinating hip and knee flexion while walking and I’ve found it really brings awareness to step placement and right/left leg awareness. This is something I went to buy so many times but they were just too expensive. I was going to try to make my own when I thought a decorative towel ladder might do the trick. I brought one for $25 from Kmart and it works a treat.
These are so great to practice weight shifting and work on balancing and core strength. I managed to grab one for $8 from Kmart (yes I know there is a common theme here but doesn’t everyone love Kmart) and this has became such a vital physio tool in our house. It’s something that can be easily incorporated into the day, we use it most mornings after I dress Willow. A couple of songs later and we have worked on weight shifting to awakening her body for the day.
Sit to stand bench
I’ve saved the best to last. This is my favourite ‘therapy hack’ and could be easily made out of a couple of pieces of wood – which was the initial plan. However, we had a cheap Ikea hallway table that we no longer needed and I got my husband to cut it down to a suitable sitting height for Willow. It literally took 5 minutes to do and we use it at least once everyday!
So there you have it….. easy to do, cheap and effective therapy hacks. I am so excited by each and every one of these and the endless opportunities they provide us for home therapy.