A unique study, taking place in Omaha, is helping premature babies learn, grow and explore their world.At 18-months-old, Aaron Hightower is reaching milestones never thought possible.
“When we were first asked to do this he couldn’t even sit for ten seconds,” said Jerri Hightower, Aaron’s mother. “He was born three months premature.” The fragile blood vessels in Aaron’s brain gave way, causing brain damage or cerebral palsy. “I think he’s actually come further along than they expected considering the damage he had,” said Hightower.
Physical therapist Reggie Harbourne works with Aaron twice a week at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe Meyer Institute. Play time is really a scientific study.
“For children, it allows them to orient, look at things, get information from the world and use their hands,” said Harbourne. “Play, which is really how they learn.”
The key to this study is a therapy mat that vibrates and creates random noise. The toddler sits on the mat during therapy twice a week. “It sort of amps up their sensation so they’re a little more aware of where they are in space,” said Harbourne. “So if they start to fall over, they can react to it.”
The vibrations are random. For Aaron, the tiny motion seems to stimulate his brain. Aaron’s mother sees improvement after just a few months.
“Now, he’ll sit for ten to 15 minutes if you have the right toy in front of him,” Hightower said.
“Anytime he does do something, I’m so grateful for it. It’s huge.”
Major milestones for a little guy on his way to a full life.
“Even if you do have a disability like cerebral palsy,” said Harbourne, “You should be able to sit and interact with the world.”
Children are still needed for this study. If your child has cerebral palsy and is 12 months to 6 years old, call the Munroe Meyer Institute.
The U.S. Department of Education is funding this study.