Success for All Using the Climbing Wall by Tammy Gipson, MS, OTR/L

Success for All Using the Climbing Wall by Tammy Gipson, MS, OTR/L

Individuals who are survivors, or siblings of survivors, of pediatric cancer are treated at the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer (AHF) for a variety of deficits related to their experience with cancer intervention. Late effects of cancer treatment can come from any of the main types of cancer interventions including chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, surgery, as well as targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Siblings of cancer survivors also often experience developmental delays as a result of decreased active participation in their normal age-appropriate activities due to the requirements of the family for their sibling’s cancer intervention. Deficits experienced can vary from decreased coordination, muscle tone/strength, balance, to visual perceptual skills and executive functioning deficits. Fortunately, we are able to provide occupational therapy intervention with use of a great therapy tool, an Adaptive Climbing Wall.

An Adaptive Climbing Wall is designed to help youth with disabilities find climbing success. It is intended primarily for horizontal climbing since it is only 8-feet high. The fun and challenge is to make it across the wall, rather than just to the top. The special ledge-style foot holds and grab-bar style hand holds assist with grasping and stability. The magnet-accepting and dry-erase surface allows for additional learning opportunities and therapies.

Boy climbing on Adaptive Wall by Everlast Climbing

The Adaptive Climbing Wall is a unique treatment tool at AHF in that it provides an opportunity for the participant to engage in a daily occupation (climbing) that is challenging while facilitating the needed gains in muscle strength, coordination, and cognitive function. As an experienced occupational therapist, I often find that we get caught in a redundant treatment regimen to elicit improvements for the individuals we serve, and treatments become monotonous and lack the luster to enhance active participation by those we serve. Utilizing the Adaptive Climbing Wall for interventions is immediately received positively by individuals of all ages; they are excited and engage easily in a variety of treatment strategies that incorporate the climbing wall.

Implementing the Adaptive Climbing Wall into OT interventions has allowed me the opportunity to challenge an individual’s ability to coordinate movement patterns of both upper and lower extremities. Through encouragement to reach for a certain color hand hold with an involved extremity, the participant completes the task more readily and is able to carry the improvement in mobility over to daily occupations of self-care including dressing and bathing. Additionally, while focusing on improvement of active range of motion of an extremity, the individual receiving treatment is passively working on core muscle strength which will allow for greater achievement of functional goals. 

Another area that is specifically targeted during our interventions at AHF are the deficits in visual perceptual skills and overall cognitive/academic skills. The Adaptive Climbing Wall is an amazing application for intervention with deficits in those specific areas. The Adaptive Climbing Wall allows for use of dry-erase markers as well as magnetic letters, numbers, and sight words during interventions. Participants of all ages can be challenged to scan the wall for a specific color or a particular letter, while engaging their body at their specific level of ability. An individual is able to celebrate not only their capacity to climb, but also their ability to visually recognize and process important academic information to improve their success at home and at school. Truthfully, the interventions in this manner are never boring; the participant can be challenged at each session and can establish a personal goal for the next session to gain even more in visual perceptual skills and cognitive skills. Individuals receiving treatment will often more actively participate with home programs which include letter recognition, writing, or visual scanning because they know that by doing so they will be able to utilize the climbing wall in their next session at AHF.

Individuals receiving treatment at AHF, who may have greater functional mobility but have deficits in areas of executive function skills, are also challenged with interventions utilizing the Adaptive Climbing Wall. The addition of dynamic challenges added to the Traverse Wall®, such as a Challenge Course, allows for a participant to encounter problem-solving obstacles. Problem solving requires a higher level of executive function ability and is an area that often is a deficit for survivors of pediatric cancer who are treated at AHF.

Truthfully, as an occupational therapist, I could go on and on about interventions and how use of the Adaptive Climbing Wall is the perfect treatment tool for any individual we treat who is challenged physically, emotionally, or developmentally.  However, I feel the proof is in the individuals we see -- survivors of pediatric cancer and/or their siblings who have faced so much adversity and have felt increased anxiety as a result of their inability to complete the physical, cognitive, or emotional task needed for them to consider themselves as “normal.” As a participant in interventions completed at AHF utilizing the climbing wall, the individual is able to reach the goal of climbing higher, or climbing across the wall, or climbing only on the red, blue, yellow or green holds, they gain a new confidence that serves them in all of their daily occupations. The functional improvements made in sensory, perceptual and motor skills change their confidence, anxiety levels decrease, and through their interventions, with use of the climbing wall, they gain what I call the “climbing wall superpower.” The pediatric cancer survivors and their siblings are able to realize that they too have the capability to also change everything! There is truly success for all when utilizing the climbing wall.

Tammy Gipson, Director of Clinical Services and Occupational Therapist at  Austin Hatcher Foundation

About the Author

Tammy Gipson is the Austin Hatcher Foundation's Director of Clinical Services and Occupational Therapist. Tammy uses her 30 years of experience to help the patients and families served at the foundation to live life to the fullest through adaptations, muscle strengthening, sensory and compensatory strategies interventions. She is licensed in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia to provide OT services. Tammy completed her education at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) and has received awards of excellence in occupational therapy and therapeutic education for her dedication to the occupational therapy profession. Tammy is committed to working with the team at Austin Hatcher Foundation to provide the most effective evidence based treatments and is optimistic regarding collaborative interventions for success with clients and their families who are overcoming the challenges of cancer treatment.



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