GO BABY GO! Souped Up Wheels Give Special Needs Kids Mobility

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I recently participated in a training course for a program called Go Baby Go, which was offered at the Annapolis Children’s Therapy Center (ACTC).

As a physical therapist working with infants and toddlers, I observe all facets of child development, including mobility, problem solving, behavior, language, and communication.  Although all of these usually evolve simultaneously in a child, I believe that it is mobility that drives all other development. Mobility is the key for a child to explore and maneuver in his or her world, and I feel strongly that without good mobility, then problem solving, behavior, language, and communication development are hindered.  Research backs me up.

Physical Therapist Renee Prentice, standing in back, and other therapists taking the Go Baby Go class.

Renee Prentice is a physical therapist, the owner of ACTC, and she agrees with me.  The Go Baby Go program uses small power toys to enhance the mobility of children with special needs, and provides training to other people on how to make the necessary modifications to the basic toys.  Use of these toys can be beneficial not just for special needs children, but for the parents, teachers, therapists, and others who work with them.  There are two reasons why Prentice offered the course.

Jennifer Koch, physical therapist, learning how to put the Go Baby Go cars together.

“I always wanted to be trained in these modification methods, and thought why not offer the training course at my own facility?” Prentice says. While exploring several ways to offer the course, Prentice ended up talking to Janice Urban from Numotion, an adaptive equipment company. Once Janice mentioned that Numotion had already been trained in the Go Baby Go program, and regularly offers training; she and Prentice immediately started planning.

Stella, 2, picks up the skills quickly and even discovers the forward/reverse gear-shift.

Second, Prentice wanted to reach out to local pediatric physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs).  Frequently, children with special needs work with more than one PT or OT, and there may not be consistency in goals and approaches.  The younger children may receive therapy from an early intervention therapist from the school system, where the PT or OT coaches the parents to perform therapeutic techniques regularly for their child in their own homes.  Children may also receive physical or occupational therapy in a clinical setting, where the therapist does more of the treatment and provides less training to the parents. “We are all in it for the child,” Prentice said.  She thought that by bringing together local therapists, they could build stronger relationships with each other.  “It’s not about us and them,” Prentice said.  “As therapists, we need to act more as a team, reinforcing and complementing one another in achieving a child’s therapeutic goals.”

Parents, therapists, and equipment specialists taking photos, making encouraging remarks, and keeping the kids safe.

The Go Baby Go movement evolved from work done at the Infant Mobility Lab at the University of Delaware, founded and led by Dr. Cole Galloway.  There, the staff researches infant mobility and its impact on other areas of infant development. Using alternative methods of creating independent mobility, this work has led to mobilizing infants and toddlers who were previously unable even to crawl.

Samara, 2, having a blast driving the car with her left hand on the big red button in a Go Baby Go car.

Cole and his graduate student assistants recognized that a child is not just a small adult and has different needs from an adult.  That’s why instead of initially placing a child in a power wheelchair, which can be as expensive as a real car and often isn’t covered by insurance, Go Baby Go will put a child in a modified toy car, a normal play element, to gain mobility.  The adapted toy car costs only what a typical toy car from Target costs, plus an amount for the extra materials, like pool noodles and pieces of PVC pipe needed to adapt it.  The modified toy car also works as an informal assessment tool to determine a child’s potential for further power mobility, without incurring the much larger expense of a fancy power wheelchair.

The 11 attendees at the recent Annapolis Go Baby Go course were mostly physical therapists and occupational therapists who work with pediatric clients in and around Anne Arundel County.  Sam Logan, Assistant Professor at Oregon State University, led the course.  He opened with his experiences in the Infant Mobility Lab in Delaware, where he trained with Dr. Cole Galloway, and described his launch of the Go Baby Go movement in the Pacific Northwest.  His current research at Oregon State University explores toddler mobility, including the experience of special needs toddlers who are given mobility with a Go Baby Go vehicle in an inclusive play environment.  He also told us about, and had us participate in, an ongoing study of attitudes towards mobility and disability.

Niam, 10 months, taking out his sweet ride!

During the course, we split into groups building, adapting, and designing our Go Baby Go cars with children in mind.  We electronically added a big mac switch, which is a large brightly colored switch to replace the gas pedal.  This switch could be operated with body parts besides the foot, such as the hand or head.  We also designed supportive seating, adding inexpensive materials such as PVC piping, pool noodles, kick boards, and Velcro strapping.  After two hours, we were ready for the children to test-drive our vehicles.  This was the best part.

When the kids arrived, we tried out our masterpieces, repairing and adapting as the trials went on.  We let the children explore and make their own decisions within reason, just as we do with developmentally normal children.

We were supervising, making boundaries, and intervening as needed.  Allie, Stella, Niam, Samara, and Aura all had a go at the cars.  They all came from different families and had different diagnoses and needs.  Some needed more support in their seats, and some needed the switch placed differently, such as at the head or the hand level.  Some figured things out quickly, while others needed more help.

Allie, 2, getting ready to roll.

Therapists and mothers ran around the parking lot like we were waiting tables, so that we could modify our cars, change supports and switches, provide guidance and encouragement, and keep the collisions at a minimum as the children zipped around.  There was smiling, crying, watching, and vocalizing just like any other playground.  After an hour of mobility, the children and their families went home, and we all did, too.  Naps or adult beverages were in order.  Everybody had a fun day.

Want to get involved?  Parents and Therapists, if you have a young child with special needs, and you are interested in the Go Baby Go movement, contact Annapolis Children’s Therapy Center.  In addition to a toy car trial, if there is enough interest, the ACTC might offer their first Go Baby Go course for parents to adapt a car.

If you’re located too far outside of the Annapolis area, inquire with your therapist or check the Go Baby Go website to find opportunities and contacts near you.

If you know a child with whom you want to try out power mobility, or you have other therapy equipment needs (for example., a gait trainer or a specialized seating system, etc.), Annapolis Children’s Therapy Center offers high-end equipment assessments and training for children that is located much closer than Washington, DC or Baltimore.

Aura prefers watching outside the car with her mother.

The equipment clinic operates with an ACTC physical therapist in combination with an equipment specialist from Numotion.  The practitioners assess, recommend, and even train, depending on a child’s needs.  They can consult with the child’s physician and outside therapists about the assessment and recommendations, and can also conduct home or school visits if needed.

Contact ACTC at 410-573-1064.

The author learning to put together a car for the Go Baby Go workshop.

Janice Fisher is a physical therapist and beekeeper from Annapolis, Maryland.

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