CHICAGO (Ivanhoe Newswire) — There are more than 5 million kids living with disabilities in the United States. Many times, their unique physical challenges keep them from competing with their peers in the classroom, but what if kids could master a wheelchair before they even learned to read? Therapists are trying to teach independence to kids as young as 1 year old.
Little Owen Chaidez can’t walk on his own, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get around. Owen was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder that limits movement of his joints and the function of his muscles.
“His right leg was on his left shoulder, left leg was twisted behind,” Owen’s mom Margaret recalled to Ivanhoe.
Typically, 2-year-olds like Owen aren’t introduced to wheelchairs until years later. Owen’s mom wanted to change that.
“That’s what he started telling us,” Margaret said. “‘I’m not a baby. I’m a big kid now.’”
She enrolled him in a study at Shriners Hospitals that’s testing if toddlers as young as 1 can control powered wheelchairs.
“Normally-developing children start walking around a year of age, and if you look at a child with a disability or a spinal cord injury who may not have that ability, they’re kind of behind from the get-go,” Timothy Caruso, P.T., M.B.A., M.S., a physical therapist at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago, explained.
Therapists teach kids the basics. Then, they’re scored on a series of driving tests. They’ve learned kids who suddenly become mobile improve their behavior and make higher intellectual gains compared to kids who depend on others to move. The goal for Owen is to be an ace in the wheelchair by the time he starts school
“I was so happy,” Margaret said. “I wanted to cry just to see his face change as soon as he did it.”
If the study proves toddlers can safely operate powered wheelchairs, insurance companies are more likely to cover the cost of the equipment for young children. The study includes 36 children all between the ages of 12 and 30 months.
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