Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gadgets and Gizmos - Part 1: TAOS

If you have a child with special needs, most likely, you will also have gadgets and gizmos that help your child learn to walk, talk, eat, drink, toilet train, sit-up straight and a whole host of other skills. Some gadgets and gizmos may be a medical necessity for your child – helping them to breathe, get nutrition or stay healthy. Whatever it may be, it takes time to find out about what is available and then learn the ins and outs of each piece of equipment. But when a real good tool comes along, it can be life changing for the child and even the family. Over the next few months, I am going to introduce a few of the items we have used. I am always surprised to find out about new equipment. I hope to spread the word about things that have been worth the time, effort and cost for us.

The TAOS, Therapeutic Ambulatory Orthotic System, is what I am focusing on today. Not many people have ever heard of it, even physical therapists. It is actually Ben's latest gizmo – and it is seriously a gizmo – he looks like he is an astronaut about to walk the moon when he is all set in the TAOS. Ben gets a lot of “good” stares when he is in it because it is definitely “cool” looking. Kids usually want to know when it is their turn to use it.

Ben has been using the TAOS since August. As you can see from the photos, it is an involved piece of equipment. I am here to tell you that it looks worse than it actually is. It’s very light weight, easy to move, take apart and assemble. It fits in a sedan type of car with pieces taken apart or fully assembled in a mini-van. It can be transported on a school bus too.

It does take time to get Ben setup in the TAOS. First, his tall ankle-foot orthotics need to be on his feet. Then, while laying on the floor, we snap him into the “bodysuit.” Finally, we lift him up and hang the bodysuit, with Ben in it, onto the tall pole. Then Ben can walk around, hands-free.

The PROS: With a traditional walker, Ben’s hands are engaged. In the TAOS Ben has full use of his arms and hands, allowing him to stand at a table to do activities.

Ben must remain in an upright position which from a physical therapy perspective, helps him develop trunk strength, as well as, correct posture. Often in a walker, Ben hunches down with bent knees, using his arms to hold him up. Because he cannot stay in this position long, he ends up resting on the floor quite a bit. This means he cannot "hang" with his friends. (That was a really bad pun.)

Ben can stay in this TAOS for a few hours. If he is motivated, he can move very quickly.

The CONS: It does seem daunting to put Ben in the TAOS because of the steps involved. It is not easy to get him out to use the toilet. Once he is in, it is not likely you will take him out for a brief time and then put him back in.

As Ben gets bigger and heavier, the idea of lifting him onto the pole with the bodysuit on is a scary thought. Of course, in the back of my mind, I hope this will help him build the muscle and strength to walk on his own or use a walker properly.

Ben has access to everything when he is in the TAOS. This means safety becomes an issue. His ability to get to things he never has been able to is exciting, but the idea of him getting to dangerous items is scary. Supervision is still key!

Since Thanksgiving, Ben’s school is using the TAOS three days a week with the school physical therapists and in the classroom during daily activities. Ben’s private physical therapists use it twice per week also. In addition, we use it on the weekends especially if we go to a place like a park, museum or play area with open space. Ben’s occupational therapist has built it in to one of his weekly sessions with Ben, making him gather puzzle pieces in one part of the house and carrying them to another part of the house.

Disclaimer: The equipment and tools I talk about in "Gadgets & Gizmos" is not sponsored by any company. This is not an advertisement for any product.

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