I Can Play

Children with limited motor function, vision and hearing impairments, and other disabilities can benefit from assistive technology and adapted play in the hospital setting. A great example of how a hospital can provide a great experience for all children is the "I Can Play" program at Primary Children's Medical Center in Utah.

The "I Can Play" program was developed in 2014 by Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. This project stems from the need to expand the supply of adaptive toys and assistive technology at the hospital for children with limited motor function. This page will talk about how the need was identified, how more opportunities for children were needed, how more adaptive toys and activities were provided, and how staff was trained so that they could improve how they could help families.

Identifying the Need for Assistive Technology in the Hospital Setting

Observations at Primary Children's Hospital (PCH) revealed the need for children with limited motor function to have activities while inpatient at the hospital. For this population, it is difficult to play with typical toys and art supplies, as they have limited abilities to use their hands to manipulate a toy, crayon, paintbrush, etc. Child Life Specialists have experienced on many occasions, that when they offer a child with limited motor skills, hearing impairment or vision impairment an activity or toy, there was not much in the supply cabinet to offer, or the parent simply said, "That's okay, my child cannot play." The Child Life Department at PCH had a very small supply of adapted toys and things like crafts, games, and activities for these children.

Creating More Opportunities for Children

PCH Parent Advisors and the Child Life Specialists developed a proposal for the hospital Board of Trustees to review and approve. The project proposal consisted of not only creating a supply of adaptive toys and assistive technology for the hospital, but to also educate and empower families and the child life specialists. This would include connecting families with community resources for after discharge from the hospital, and in-service education by these community organizations for the Child Life department and Nursing staff.

The project was proposed with the intent to create opportunities for children who are inpatient throughout the hospital to access assistive technology for play, function and communication. With proper implementation, it would give new possibilities to children who benefit from adaptations, and create awareness for families that there are many assistive technology options for their child both in the hospital and the home and community setting.

After the Board of Trustees saw the presentation and understood the need, they approved the implementation of the project. On that day, "I Can Play" was born.

Providing Adaptive Toys and Activities

After the Board of Trustees saw the presentation and understood the need, they approved the implementation of the project. On that day, "I Can Play" was born.

The "Assistive Technology Team" which consisted of a Parent Advisor, three Child Life Specialists and the Director of Family Support Services met on a regular basis to make plans for the project. The first item on the list was to order adaptive supplies and educate all Hospital Child Life staff.

Some of the Child Life Specialists expressed their excitement to be involved in planning and implementing the project. One particular specialist showed a passion for learning about and providing these opportunities for children and families at the hospital. She was assigned by the team to oversee the purchase and care of the adaptive toys and assistive technology. She felt so strongly about this project that she gave every detail her best. She started by looking at the somewhat limited budget, realizing how expensive assistive technology can be. She sought out instructions to adapt the toys herself instead of purchasing the over-priced adaptive toys from a distributor, which stretched the budget nicely. She educated herself on toys and activities for not only children with limited motor function, but also with hearing and vision impairments. She was creative and found "out of the box" ideas for these children to have opportunities to play, create art, and express themselves. She also took charge of making sure there was a supply cabinet just for these specialized items that included a check-out system to keep track of where things were, and created a resource book for Child Life Specialists to give parents and caregivers resources that are available in the community.

Educating Staff and Helping Families

Next, the Child Life staff put together learning sessions, partnering with specialists from the Utah Center for Assistive Technology. The first session consisted of understanding the importance of assistive technology, how to identify a child who could benefit from assistive technology, how to implement the use of items for children with different impairments, and how to educate and empower parents to seek resources outside of the hospital in the community for their child to further benefit from assistive technology not only for play, but for communication, recreation, and daily living needs.

As a result of this learning session, the next steps for the project were identified:

  • Educate nursing and technician staff about the availability of assistive technology through Child Life
  • Continuing education for Child Life staff in the areas of everyday living, communication and recreation which will be provided by the Utah Center for Assistive Technology
  • Identify families who have other needs for Assistive Technology in their home and community and connect them with the Utah Center for Assistive Technology and other organizations for evaluating and meeting their needs
  • Foster an ongoing relationship with the Utah Center for Assistive Technology, partnering to create innovative ideas to meet the needs of our children at Primary Children's Hospital
  • Create a fund for supply and maintenance of Assistive Technology

Innovating and Improving Care for Children and Families

The "I Can Play" project will be an ongoing, thriving program at Primary Children's Hospital. It will be utilized by the Child Life Department to measure quality goals for the year, and has been a great success so far. It has been a powerful reminder to the hospital staff and Board of Trustees that we can always do better; we can always innovate and improve to give the best quality of care to all children and their families. By partnering with community organizations, families will have access to resources and knowledge to provide a more optimal quality of life for their child.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: October 2014; last update/revision: December 2014
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Tina Persels
Reviewer: Gina Pola-Money