Unilateral cerebral palsy hand-arm function improved by magic?

A spellbinding study has found that teaching children with unilateral cerebral palsy (CP) magic tricks can help to enhance their hand and arm functions – improving their ability to do everyday tasks.

CP can come in many different forms, one of which is unilateral. In this form, those afflicted can have trouble moving one side of their body which can make everyday tasks that require coordination of both sides difficult.

To treat children with unilateral CP a method called hand-arm bimanual intensive therapy (HABIT) is adopted. HABIT is inspired by motor learning theory and neuroplasticity, it encourages children to partake in structured, playful, activity-based tasks that involve both hands.

The study in question was carried out by a team of Australian researches who recruiting a group of 28 budding witches and wizards aged 7.6 to 16 years old. Entitled Amazing Magic Club, the researchers taught magic tricks to the children using HABIT as a guideline.

Children were asked to choose from a selection of magic tricks and practice each day for six hours over a 10 day period. Each trick encouraged a variety of physical movements. Feedback was given to the children by seasoned magicians who gave them things to work on each night.

As well as these 10 days, a monthly 3.5-hour session was held where children rehearsed and performed their magic tricks, prepared food, partook in arts and crafts and played bimanual games.

Once all sessions were completed, the children were assessed using different methods of testing CP: the Assisting Hand Assessment (AHA), where children are observed spontaneously handling toys in a relaxed way; the Box and Blocks Test, where children move blocks between boxes across a partition; and the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM), where children are observed by caregivers on a daily basis who see how they handle everyday tasks.

For AHA, no reliable improvement was spotted in those that took part in the study. For COPM, however, a significant improvement was found, suggesting that learning and carrying out the tricks repetitively improved the children’s ability to perform everyday tasks… as if by magic.