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Peyton_BCI_painting

Peyton Temple (middle) and her mom, Nadine (right) proudly display Peyton's artwork created using brain computer interface (BCI), which harnesses brainwaves to control computers and other devices.

Brain computer interface opens up a world of opportunity for kids

Some people look at Peyton Temple and may think a disabled body means a disabled mind. Her parents know that’s not the case.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was only months old, Peyton has lived her life in a wheelchair, without control of her arms and legs or the ability to speak. While she may have significant physical limitations, Peyton’s parents will tell you their daughter is funny, bright and cognitively 100 percent. With an engaging laugh and non-verbal cues, Peyton can get her wishes across to her family and caregivers, but remains trapped inside her body, unable to communicate with classmates, friends and the world at large.

There are approximately 12,000 young people like Peyton in Canada, with several thousand living in our community. Thanks to your support, the Alberta Children’s Hospital is launching an innovative program of research to help these most severely disabled children better interact with the world in ways they’ve never done before—through brain-computer interface (BCI), which harnesses their brainwaves to control computers and other devices.

“I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first. Peyton was actually controlling the movement of a ball with the power of her mind.”

Nadine, Peyton's mom

Peyton was among the first to be identified as a good candidate for this study. “She was a quick learner,” says her mom, Nadine. “I must admit, I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first. Peyton was actually controlling the movement of a ball with the power of her mind.”

Not long after she mastered moving the ball, the research team thought adding some paint to the process might create some interesting results. And it has. Dozens of times. “Peyton considers herself quite the artist now,” Nadine laughs. “Each one is a masterpiece, as far as I’m concerned. BCI has opened the door for Peyton and we’re so excited to see where it leads.”

Children living with conditions such as a stroke, spinal cord injury or cerebral palsy can suffer from severe limitations in their mobility and capacity to communicate. Fully aware and capable but unable to walk, these children are trapped in their bodies. Treatment options are limited

Dr._Kirton_squareDr. Adam Kirton started the Calgary Pediatric Stroke Program at the Alberta Children’s Hospital to provide state-of-the-art diagnosis, treatment and support to children with stroke-related brain injuries and give them the opportunity to participate in leading clinical research initiatives.

Building on the expertise already assembled at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Dr. Kirton and his team are among only a few in the world conducting BCI research for children.

These systems have the potential to engage children—many of whom otherwise cannot communicate—in learning and play. The software and technology can allow children to operate various devices simply by thought via a non-invasive electroencephalogram (EEG) that captures electrical activity of the brain.


“Some children with the most severe physical disabilities—unable to walk, talk, or use their hands—are highly intelligent and capable,” says Dr. Kirton. “We have to push the limits of advanced technologies like BCI to help them realize their full potential.”

Dr. Adam Kirton
Alberta Children's Hospital

Modern BCI systems can recognize changes in thought patterns and transmit them to control devices, from computer cursors and communication devices to TV remotes and beyond. The overall goal is to find new ways for children with severely limited movement and speech but intact intellect to express themselves, to interact with their environment and gain independence.

“Some children with the most severe physical disabilities—unable to walk, talk, or use their hands—are highly intelligent and capable,” says Dr. Kirton. “We have to push the limits of advanced technologies like BCI to help them realize their full potential.”

For “locked-in” children living in Calgary, BCI could open a whole new world of opportunity. A novel research program is being established to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of BCI to help children with severe neurological disability find more independence and higher quality of life.

With strong partnerships already established in national and international BCI networks, Dr. Kirton and his team are already positioned as leaders in the application of this life-changing technology for children. At the end of this discovery phase of research, Dr. Kirton plans to grow the program to full capacity locally and then launch a multi-centre trial led by the Calgary team. The knowledge and expertise gained could help otherwise silent children to engage with their family — and their world — in new and exciting ways.

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