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This Toronto girl can use her thoughts to move her wheelchair. Here's how

Giselle Alnaser can move her wheelchair with her thoughts at Holland Bloorview. Giselle Alnaser can move her wheelchair with her thoughts at Holland Bloorview.

While it sounds like something out of an X-Men movie, young patients at Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital can really move objects with their own thoughts.

The hospital has been researching Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology and is the first pediatric hospital worldwide to use it in a clinical setting.

The technology allows 8-year-old Giselle Alnaser to move her Power Chair Trainer, which she demonstrated to CTV News Toronto. It starts by teaching the software how Alnaser’s brain works with sensors on a headset detecting her brain activity pattern while at rest.

It registers a different pattern when Alnaser thinks more actively; her mom typically cheers her on as she does.

Dots on a computer screen show the difference between a resting state, indicated with a red dot, and her desire for movement indicated with a green dot.

The headset is connected to a platform, where her wheelchair is mounted, and which moves forward when she commands it.

“It’s really going to give kids the opportunity to experience the joy of movement,” occupational therapist Susannah Van Damme said.

Samah Darwish says her daughter was thrilled with the technology when she first tried it three years ago.

“She loved it. She was surprised how she really activated something by herself without needing to ask anyone to help her with it.”

On this particular day, Alnaser is able to navigate her way through a colourful tunnel. On other days, her headset is connected to a bubble-making machine that spurts soap bubbles when triggered by her brain commands.

While she has one command right now, her therapists hope Alnaser can soon develop a different pattern of brain waves to create a second way to command devices.

For now, the technology is only used recreationally. It can’t be used to navigate around a school, for example. But it can offer kids who are often isolated a chance to play interactively in small groups at the rehab centre.

Naser Alnaser, Giselle’s father, says it offers a glimpse of what the future might hold.

“It’s really emotional to start with” he says, “and yeah, it’s like seeing a glimpse of hope”.

This March, the BCI program is being highlighted during “Capes for Kids” week. Holland Bloorview’s annual fundraising campaign hopes to raise a million dollars for programs like BCI, summer camps, music therapy and more. Top Stories

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