YOUR HEALTH: Learning with Marlie: When play becomes progress

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Published: Oct. 6, 2023 at 9:51 AM CDT
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ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Playing is a rite of passage for children, but not all children get to enjoy a playground, birthday party or recess. Kids born with complex disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome are often left out or their disability makes them unable to participate. A new program making a difference.

Like every child, four-year-old Marlie Ellison loves to play, but she has seizures every day, according to her mother, Damianna Quinones.

Marlie was born a micro-preemie.

“She was only a pound and a half,” said Quinones.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Marlie goes to therapy nine times a week. But one therapy is different from all the rest.

Marlie is part of an innovative program that uses play to help develop communication and motor skills.

“What we know is that all children have a desire to play, but they need to access that play differently,” said Dr. Jennifer Tucker, a board-certified clinical specialist in pediatric physical therapy at the University of Central Florida.

Pediatric physical therapists and speech therapists work together to help children with complex conditions reach their full potential.

“So as my colleague is working on positioning and seating and mobility and I’m working on communication, the child is getting the benefit of all of those kinds of approaches at once, which is the way that development occurs,” said Dr. Julie Feuerstein, a pediatric speech pathologist at the University of Central Florida.

This helps children like Marlie express themselves.

“Marlie’s really good at using her facial expressions, her body movements, her gestures to communicate with her environment and with the people and her peers,” said Dr. Feuerstein.

The play therapy at UCF tries to find multiple ways for children with complex conditions to learn to communicate. That can be with their eyes, through utilizing buttons and switches, or just through their smile. Each child is different, but once a child finds a way to communicate, they believe it’s the first step to really giving that child control and the ability to engage with others.

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