In this article, the project team at Politecnico di Milano (Italy) talks about the need to ensure that sport does not socially exclude children with motor disabilities, but also about their rewarding moments from the project. They describe how having strong collaboration between different stakeholders such as clinical centres, laboratories, sports centres and primary schools helped towards the success of their project.
Input comes from Professor Manuela Galli, Doctor Luigi Piccinini and researchers Andrea di Francesco and Federica Camuncoli.
Hemiplegia is a form of paralysis generally affecting one half of the body. Orthoses are external device/apparatus used in orthopaedics to support or immobilise the spine or limbs.
The team behind GIFT, the E4 Sport Lab (Politecnico di Milano), were inspired by a study which highlighted that children with hemiplegia are excluded from physical activity in schools. The team started the project because they realised the need for these children to have equal opportunities and be included in physical activity at school - and that sport overall needed to become more inclusive.
GIFT wants to implement this vision through a holistic approach by encouraging children to help other children. The project uses a GIFT Book containing guidelines and exciting activities for both paraplegic and non-paraplegic children which facilitates the social inclusion of all children in their school environment.
The plan is first to focus on children suffering from hemiplegia, particularly in primary schools in Italy, and to provide walking support with current orthoses. At present, they are focusing on improving the existing orthoses, but are also considering extending these efforts to other pathologies.
Looking ahead to the future, the team hopes to potentially extend the scope to other age groups including teenagers and even adults. If funding allows, they hope to collaborate with other motion analysis labs so that results can be shared more widely and others can also benefit.
GIFT - a true gift to all
One of the children said she wanted to repeat this day every Saturday for the rest of the year, that made us happy, that was our motivation.
When reflecting on the project, its creators felt a great sense of pride. They note many highlights, from presenting the project to the university to seeing the enthusiastic response from parents and children.
Researcher Andrea di Francesco recalled a special day when they organised activities, “one of the children said she wanted to repeat this day every Saturday for the rest of the year, that made us happy, that was our motivation.”
The positive nature of this multidisciplinary research project originates from the collaborative process itself, which involves different individuals along the way. It includes doctors, professors, researchers, primary school teachers, parents and children, resulting in a real authentic team experience.
The collaboration also extends to clinical centres and laboratories like the GAIT laboratory, which helps identify the focus of hemiplegia by using special markers and a programmed system.
All of these members play a vital role in enhancing participation, improving technological development of orthopaedic devices and mobilising children. This is because physical mobility improvements from customised orthoses are also boosted mentally thanks to the motivation and passion seen in the project. This explains why in many cases, children are the first to support each other. As they often declare: ‘We Can. We Move!’
Join the 2021 #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards Ceremony online on 4 May 2022 to find out the winners!