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Robot helps Arizona kids with cerebral palsy practice motor skills

PHOENIX – Cerebral palsy, an intellectual disability that affects motor skills and is diagnosed in thousands of children in the United States each year, can be difficult to treat.

However, a local organization has a new robotic tool.

The AreTech ZeroG Gait and Balance System looks unassuming. This is a ceiling mounted U-shaped track approximately 70 feet long.

On this track is a small robotic box, which controls a suspended harness.

However, this little robot is a big deal, says Valerie Pieraccini of United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona.

“It’s a sophisticated bodyweight support system,” she explains. “Basically, it lightens the kids up so they can practice any developmental skills that may be lagging behind.”

The AreTech ZeroG Gait and Balance System provides dynamic weight support and fall protection, allowing patients to practice motion movements safely.

For children learning to crawl, take their first steps, or even sharpen their motor skills, this help can be essential.

“Adults don’t adapt or learn as easily, but toddler brains are actually developing,” Pieraccini said. “This process is very strongly shaped by their environment and their own activity.”

United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona is the first pediatric center in the West to have installed the device, and will allow them to provide treatment and rehabilitation for a variety of movement disorders.

“While there are services scattered across the state, our goal is to truly be that place — and it’s truly a unique service that we’re able to provide for these children,” Pieraccini said.

The ZeroG system didn’t come cheap, and the program relied on funding from the Board of Visitors and Thunderbird Charities along with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Pieraccini says the unique benefit of the system makes it worth it.

“It’s part of a larger program, a movement disorder clinic for children,” she explains. “They can come for that, but we can probably help them in other ways as well. We are delighted to be this place.

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