An individual with ataxia has rapid muscle tone fluctuation which can vary from low to normal tone. Because ataxia is a movement disorder, it can have a disorganizing effect on day-to-day functioning. The fluctuation of muscle tone is most observable in the arms and hands, but it also occurs in the trunk and oculomotor (visual-motor) system. With ataxia, stretch reflexes and balance reactions are frequently exaggerated leading to problems with balance and coordination.
Here are some suggestions for working with students who have ataxia:
-Work close to the body or trunk with consistent placement of the hands.
-Provide firm pressure- pull the rib cage down with heavy, consistent control.
-Work to develop control of a few midrange positions and postures.
-Include exercises to strengthen the triceps.
-Always work rhythmically and predictably.
-Provide a source of support for stability, such a something to hold onto while working.
-If the child is mobile, provide support and guidance while walking and have the child visually search for objects so he will not stabilize using the visual (occulomotor) system for compensation, which can be a safety hazard.
-Always tell the child when you are changing activities or placement of materials.
-Place objects in the same spot repeatedly for consistency.
-Work on dycem or other non-skid material for stability.
-Provide heavy toys to play with or use weighted wrist cuffs (consult a therapist to see which weight is most appropriate for each individual child)
-Use firm theraputty for hand exercise.
-Be aware of potential fatigue issues and provide frequent breaks if necessary.
-Always consult a physical or occupational therapist if you have specific questions when working with a student with ataxia.
For more information on ataxia, consult the following website: http://www.ataxia.org/learn/ataxia-diagnosis.aspx