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Mobile Apps and Occupational Therapy

News Story

Assisted by the emergence of interactive technologies, College of Health Professions Assistant Professor Cindy Lee, PhD, is aiming to develop a dynamic mobile app to better assist pediatric occupational therapists.

Mobile apps may be confined to just our smartphones and tablets, but they are truly everywhere. The global population of mobile app users has exceeded 5 billion, and Android and iOS users have more than 2 million apps to choose from at their disposal, at any given time.

While many apps exist for entertainment, business, or even mischievous purposes, there are also a number that are using the promise of technology to better solve pre-existing problems, or improve processes. College of Health Professions Assistant Professor and Founding Director of the Occupational Therapy Program Cindy (Supawadee) Lee, PhD, is attempting to do just that.

“I’ve been practicing for more than 20 years as a pediatric occupational therapist,” says Lee. “As a pediatric occupational therapist, we utilize mobile applications in order to promote and improve student development and visual perceptual skills significantly.”

Given her interest in technological advancement in the field of occupational therapy—a type of therapy that helps individuals develop or recover skills meaningful for participation in everyday life—Lee decided that she would try her hand in developing an app that aids students as effectively as possible, while also cultivating information technology to continually improve processes within the field.  

“Together, with my interest in technology and my practice area in pediatric occupational therapy, I’m thinking we should develop a mobile app that can help improve visual-perceptual skills in children with special needs,” says Lee.

As a pediatric occupational therapist, assisting children in developing visual-perceptual skills is paramount. Visual-perceptual skills—which refer to the human brain function that allows the brain to interpret and give meaning to what the eyes are seeing—must develop a certain degree of precision for humans to be able to read, write, and understand forms and more complex processes around them. One of Lee’s motivations for developing an app was that in a field that requires considerable expertise, not too many experts were involved in the creation of apps for occupational therapists.

“There are actually very few mobile applications that are developed by occupational therapists,” says Lee. “We want to provide an app that is developed by therapists and also has the necessary support—what therapists really want to see in a mobile application, so they can apply the app into their practice.”

Currently, the app is in the development stage. Lee and her Seidenberg collaborator, Zhan Zhang, PhD, conducted a systematic review on available apps, and interviewed pediatric occupational therapists on what they would like to see in a new app, and implementations that could be made to improve pediatric occupational therapy practices. Overall, Lee realized that there was a strong need for apps that facilitated and fostered better communication between all parties—students, parents, teachers, and therapists. Better communication, combined with the technological possibilities of an app, would help all parties better reach the goals of each individual practice and student.

“One thing that was lacking in available apps now, is only a few apps provide appropriate features to support parent involvement and feedback,” says Lee. “In terms of parents involvement and the communication between the teacher, the therapist, and the parent—that feature is also lacking.”

In the near future, Lee and Zhang, hope to introduce an application into the market that will serve both the needs of the student and the therapist. Over the long-term, Lee hopes that the application will serve as a teacher in itself—that it will be able evaluate visual-perceptual skills in a complex manner, and assist students in ways that are currently unprecedented.

“Our immediate goal is to design and develop the mobile application,” says Lee. “Down the road, it’s not just to help promote the visual-perceptual skills of the student, but it will be also used to evaluate the level of the child’s visual-perceptual skills.”