How robotics is helping kids with disabilities in Manitoba learn to walk

A new technology gaining traction in Manitoba is helping kids with disabilities learn to walk quicker than they might have before.

Sarah-Michelle Senécal is an occupational therapist, and the owner and lead clinician at Stable Connections.

She says when it comes to learning a new skill, like walking, repetition is key.

The more practice a patient gets, the stronger the neural pathways that control their movement become.

Senécal says it takes around 100,000 repetitions for a patient to learn a new skill.

“In an hour with me at the clinic, we can maybe, if we’re lucky, get a solid 35 to 50 reps of the right biomechanics, the right activation, the right verticality, postural alignment.”

But with a robotic exoskeleton controlling their movements, they can get in more reps in a shorter amount of time.

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Cory Schneider, a physiotherapist with Trexo Robotics, says the machine can be tailored to the abilities of the child.

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“It also calculates something we call initiation, which is a rough score of how much work the child is doing versus not. We also have options within our software to make a child work harder called ‘strength mode’, so the child kind of has to walk themselves.”

Some kids feel more comfortable in it than others, and getting used to the sensation and movement can be a lot to process.

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But Schneider says they’re seeing promising outcomes.

“Of the research we’ve had published so far, we’ve seen some gains in things, like head control is a big one, so a lot of children we work with have trouble holding their head up all the time. So just being upright gives them opportunity to practice holding their head up straight.”

Which is why Senécal wants to bring them in to her practice, and is planning on applying for funding to conduct her own research.

“I would love to see, just in terms of functional outcomes, how much faster we can achieve them when we pair what we do here with added practice and repetition in the Trexo,” Senécal said.

Senécal is planning to acquire two models, which can she can use both in-house as well as lend them out to her clients.

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