Interactive technology (FS-16)

Emerging use of interactive technology in rehabilitation for young people

Hilda Mulligan (New Zealand), Jennifer L Rowland (United States of America), Marlene Sandlund (Sweden), Joanne Potterton (South Africa), Parimala Kanagasabai (New Zealand)

Focused symposium

Sunday 3 May 2015, 13:45-15:15, Hall 404

Emerging use of interactive technology in rehabilitation for young people

Mulligan H. 1, Rowland J.L. 2, Sandlund M. 3, Potterton J. 4, Kanagasabai P. 5

1Otago University, School of Physiotherapy, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2University of Texas Medical Branch, Physical Therapy, Galveston, United States of America, 3Umeå University, Dept. of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Umeå, Sweden, 4University of the Witwatersrand, Physiotherapy, Johannesburg, South Africa, 5Otago University, School of Physiotherapy, Dunedin, New Zealand

Learning objectives

  1. To describe the current state of the science through presentation of review of the literature and recent original research on interactive technology for children or youth with disabilities.
  2. To understand interactive technology and its application as an emerging therapy as it applies to rehabilitation of children and youth with disabilities in different contexts.
  3. To discuss application and clinical relevance of the utilization of interactive technology as an emerging therapy for children and youth with disabilities.


The desire to invent rehabilitation methods that are motivating, fun and engaging for children and youth is perhaps one of the best reasons why an interest in interactive technology has awakened. Engaging and enjoyable rehabilitation options could potentially improve motivation and adherence with training. Children with disability have an affinity towards interactive technology. Recent studies have shown a large percentage of children involved in computer and video games. Furthermore, parents are reported to perceive that motion interactive games are motivating and stimulating for home based rehabilitation of their children.

Systematic review of the literature demonstrates the potential for the use of interactive technology as a tool in rehabilitation for children and youth with disabilities, although the evidence for this emerging and innovative approach for rehabilitation purposes is still only moderate to weak. This symposium will provide physical therapists with an overview of interactive technology as it applies to children and youth with disability. We will identify that children with disability enjoy and choose these types of technology in their daily lives. We will argue that it is the features that interactive technology can offer (i.e., appropriate challenge, multiplayer ability, competition and variation) that positively influence motivation for children to engage in rehabilitative experiences. We will also identify, however, that it is these features that present challenges to the development of this technology for children with disability, because of the varying preferences and characteristics of this population.

This presentation will provide evidence to demonstrate the use of interactive technology i) To enhance motor control, and encourage physical activity and social interaction in the home setting for children with physical disability, ii) To encourage and facilitate physical activity in the school-based setting for children and youth with severe disability and iii) For use with children with cognitive and behavioral disorders to facilitate communication, social interaction and healthy behavior in the school setting. We will also describe the perceptions of parents about the suitability and application of interactive technology for their children.

This symposium will provide suggestions for future research in the emerging field of interactive technology. For example, we will identify the need for studies to report on child characteristics and level of disability and the need to develop standardized ways to measure outcomes of interventions so that the evidence for this approach to intervention can be usefully synthesized. The resources required for this approach to rehabilitation will be discussed via identification of current barriers to its application from the perspectives of clinicians in both developed and developing countries. Lastly, future possibilities to develop customized interactive technology will be discussed as a potentially cost-effective way for physical therapists to encourage social interaction, motivation for physical activity and learning in children and youth with disabilities around the world.

Implications / Conclusions

Interactive technology is an emerging tool that shows promise as a rehabilitative intervention for children and youth with disabilities for learning communication skills, improving social interaction skills, and for motivating healthy behaviors. Although physical therapists could be well placed to be involved in the development of interactive technology for children and youth with disability and to further investigate it from a rehabilitation perspective, there is currently, however, very little research by physical therapists in this area.


Interactive technology; Rehabilitation; Children with disabilty

Funding acknowledgements

i) Wilson Home Trust and Physiotherapy New Zealand Paediatric Special Interest Group Research award to Dr Hilda Mulligan
ii) National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education, Field Initiated Grant #H133G080120; Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grant to Dr Jennifer Rowland.
iii) Vårdalinstitutet - The Swedish Institute for Health Sciences, the foundations of JC Kempe, Sven Jerring, Muskelfond Norr, and the Queen Silvia Jubilee Fund for research on children and disability to Dr Marlene Sandlund and
iv) National Research Foundation South Africa to Dr Joanne Potterton

Relevance to WCPT and expected audience

WCPT seeks to explore innovative ways for physical therapists to generate and disseminate the evidence for our practice. This Focused Symposium intends to draw attention to the emerging use of interactive technology for rehabilitation for children and youth with disabilities. It will discuss current research in this field, identify it potential and strengths for application as a rehabilitation tool, as well as identify the challenges to further development and use of this type of technology.

Target audience

This focused symposium is intended for physical therapy clinicians and researchers whose work or research interest includes children and youth with disabilities.