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Developing Skills Through Toys

    • Family Opportunity Weekend - Leeds 2012 (61)


When choosing toys and games for children with hydrocephalus or spina bifida, it is important to consider not only what will provide enjoyment, but whether the toy will also help all round development.

There are aspects of play with toys or games which can be used positively for specific learning: to develop concentration; to emphasise sequencing (putting events or thought processes in step-by-step logical order); memory training; perception (size and shape); manipulation (the use of hand and fingers) and coordination (especially hand/eye co-ordination). Some of these are the specific learning difficulties that have now been highlighted as problems associated with hydrocephalus.

There are many good pre-school toys and games on the market which cover the development such skills and could help in the early years.

It must be stressed, that to gain the maximum play and learning value from these toys and games, adult supervision and guidance, reinforced by talking to the child about what he/she is doing while playing, will help the child with concentration and meaningful play.

All areas of play and development overlap, especially with a young child, where movement, hearing, seeing and thinking are all closely linked and vitally dependent on each other. Bearing this in mind, although the following toys and games have been grouped for specific learning skills, there will be other benefits:

Mobiles: encourage eye focus and movement, leading to reaching out.

Baby gym: encourages eye focus and reaching out and hand/eye co-ordination, as well as being a reward toy.

Pop-up toys: (progressing to hammer balls) encourage hand/eye co-ordination.

Posting boxes: involve recognition and matching of shapes. Hand and finger control are required to post shapes.

Picture dominoes and lottos: require matching of shapes, hand/finger and direction activity. Help in learning to take ‘turns’.

Finger paints and puppets: encourage hand and finger play.

Play Doh, modelling materials: materials to develop the feeling of different textures.

Building and construction kits: excellent for hand and finger training as well as for learning the position of objects in space and turning 2D pictures into 3D objects. These will include: Lego, stickle bricks, Duplo, Popoids, Kinex, Meccano.

NB Toys containing magnets are not recommended for children with programmable (adjustable) shunts.

The next stage may be mosaics, peg boards, picture templates, stencil sets, Etcha sketch, Magna doodle, paint by numbers and board games. These help thought processes, sequencing, logic, memory, prereading, writing and number work.

Computerised games: handheld games and games consoles, will help with dexterity and hand/eye coordination. It is very easy to leave a child to play with these games but a computer cannot take the place of a parent’s involvement ad time with Game Boys etc should be limited.

To help the child’s gross motor skills encourage hopping, skipping, balancing, bouncing (eg Space Hopper, trampoline), running and jumping.

Children will also enjoy using scooters, ride-on toys and bicycles. The child with hydrocephalus may need stabilisers on his/her bike well after his/her peer group have dispensed with theirs.

Imaginative play should be encouraged, although it does not always come easily to children with hydrocephalus. However, most will enjoy using prams, toy kitchens, toy cars and garages, dolls, etc. It is amazing how easy it is to construct a ‘house’ or ‘tent’ using two chairs and a sheet!

Toys do not need to be expensive - explore the charity shops and look in your cupboards - pots and pans, plastic colanders, empty plastic bottles (fill with rice or lentils to make ‘music’), wooden spoons, sheets and towels will give hours of play.

Imagination costs nothing!

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Some babies with spina bifida are now operated on before they are born, via keyhole surgery.

Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired.

NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) is an excessive build-up of fluid in the head.

Hydrocephalus is a build up of excess fluid in the brain.

Some 11 - 35% of people with Intracranial Hypertension recover spontaneously!

Most babies with spina bifida undergo surgery within 48 hours of birth.

“Every effort should be made to ensure that all children are immunized, no opportunity to immunize should be missed.”

If you have spina bifida +/or hydrocephalus you should receive the same vaccinations as any others, when going abroad.

Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek "hydro" meaning water and "cephalie", meaning brain.

Some forms of hydrocephalus require no specific treatment.

Medical advice should always be sought if shunt infection is suspected!

Shunt: a device that diverts accumulated cerebro-spinal fluid around the obstructed pathways back to the bloodstream.

Possible signs of chronic shunt blockage include: 
fatigue, general malaise or behavioural changes.

A shunt alert card should be carried at all times by people with hydrocephalus treated by a shunt.

Possible signs of acute shunt blockage may include: visual disturbances, drowsiness and seizures.

Symptoms of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus are similar to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease or simply increasing age.

NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) occurs most often in people aged over 60.

Benign Intracranial Hypertension aka Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension affects about one or two in every 100,000 people!

Symptoms associated with raised intracranial pressure; headache, visual disturbances, photophobia, vomiting, problems with balance...

Diagnosis of Intracranial Hypertension is by scan + measurement of the CSF pressure.

Babies born prematurely are at increased risk of developing hydrocephalus.

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Para-athletes with spina bifida and hydrocephalus compete in sports ranging from cycling to dressage.

Hydrocephalus may affect memory, concentration and behaviour.

The usual treatment for hydrocephalus is to insert a shunt into the brain.

CSF stands for cerebro-spinal fluid.

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Spina bifida occulta is a hidden form of spina bifida.

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