The New Tech Improving Quality of Life for Kids at Blythedale

The Valhalla institution is helping children integrate more effectively and live more independently than ever.

Blythedale Children’s Hospital has been a standout in special-needs healthcare and development since opening its doors in 1891. Now, with the launch of their Assistive Technology Program, the Valhalla institution is giving children some new and better technology, to help them integrate more effectively and live more independently than ever. According to Julie Knitter, the director of occupational therapy and assistive technology, the program is specialized to each child’s needs and disability in order to help them reach their goals more fluidly.

“It allows each child to be independent and move through their world while communicating with family, friends, and educators,” Knitter says. “They can engage in interactions with user technology, like cellphones or computers, to live more independent and fulfilling lives.”

Five-year-old Jack Proenca of Yonkers is part of the Assistive Technology Program. Born with a very rare micro-deletion of chromosome 16, Jack received an iPad from the program, which his mother, Joana Proenca, credits for the dramatic improvement in his speech.

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“Blythedale has been a miracle for my son, who we thought would never be able to walk or talk,” shares Proenca.  “Now, Jack spends much of the day singing, counting, and reciting his ABCs. The staffs at both Mount Pleasant Blythedale Union Free School and the hospital are amazing, caring individuals. They know every single child at that school and basically become their best friends, and the results these kids show proves it.”

In addition to the Assistive Technology Program, Blythedale uses computer-based VR simulation to help children practice functions in an error-free learning environment. The children use a two-dimensional interface they either wear or hold. They practice tasks like crossing the street or catching a ball.

“We’re always looking for ways to simulate function for a child who does not yet have that function,” Knitter says. “For many years, we’ve been trying to use software, apps, and computer interfaces to let the child manipulate objects in a virtual world that they can’t in the physical world. There’s a wide range of functional living skills for children that can be practiced, learned, and improved in a virtual environment that is more fun for them.”

To learn more about the Blythedale Children’s Hospital and its Assistive Technology Program, visit www.blythedale.org.

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