Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

How Important Is Mobility for Your Child?

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

How Important Is Mobility for Your Child?

Article excerpt

Parents of children who have monitor disabilities must make the important decision of whether to acquire a power wheelchair for their child, and then what is the best age to do so. While there are many factors involved in this decision, two of the most important to consider are the benefits of a power wheelchair for the child, and his or her readiness to learn how to drive it.

The ability to move from place to place independently is important to a child's development, as it encourages or speeds important developmental changes. Early mobility experiences are important to later development. Independent mobility in children is related to the growth of many cognitive thinking, social, and emotional skills. Studies have also shown that not being able to move independently can create cognitive, motor, and sensory problems.

Power mobility improves lives

Many parents can describe how a power wheelchair has improved their child's life. Research has also documented the benefits of power mobility for children who have disabilities. Children who used power devices such as power scooters or wheelchairs, became more involved with people and interested in objects. They tried more actions on their own instead of demanding or asking others to do it. Improved play and talking with other children was also noted. The children had an increased interest in all mobility skills, including walking. Improvements in language skills, self-image, and interest in trying new tasks were seen. Parents viewed their children as more independent in certain situations and less vulnerable. Powered mobility also allowed the children to more fully participate in school activities.

Developmental theory and research suggests that if a child is not able to walk after 1 year of age, parents and clinicians should enhance whatever movement the child has. This can reduce the negative effects of the motor disability on the child's overall development. Enhancing mobility refers to all aids that can help or replace walking. These include: walkers; wheeled devices such as prone scooters, tricycles, and manual wheelchairs; and powered devices such as powered wheelchairs and toys.

Dr. Charlene Butler, a special education consultant in private practice in the Seattle, Washington area and a pioneer in pediatric powered mobility, has stated that independent mobility should not require so much time and effort that it hampers a child's spontaneous ability to explore, interact, and achieve. The decision to choose a power wheelchair over a manual one can be made when the child cannot propel the manual wheelchair at a reasonable speed, or for an adequate length of time.

Studies by Dr. Butler have shown that children as young as 18 months can quickly learn to operate a power wheelchair safely. Additionally, her research has shown that the use of power devices does not stop the development of a child's walking potential, nor do older children "give up" walking because they have another way to move.

Currently, there is little information available to parents and healthcare professionals to help them determine when a child is ready to safely learn to use a power wheelchair. As a result, some children who are ready for a power wheelchair may not receive one. Other children may be trained for months at a time in a powered wheelchair without ever becoming safe drivers.

Learning to use a power wheelchair

Why is it that one child can learn to operate a power wheelchair quickly, and another child takes much longer? …

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