Play is an occupation in which every child has a fundamental right to engage. Hide-and-seek, tag, building forts and creating alternate universes with their imagination - play occupies the daily lives of children. The ability to explore the environment and engage in play is critical for the development of children. Yet, children with mobility impairments may be limited to play in a constricted context, or may depend on their parents to participate in activities.
They may not have a choice of when, how, or what to play with, and end up having these decisions made for them. This lack of autonomy can negatively impact cognitive development and could contribute to learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a condition which can develop as a response to children having everything done for them, instead of independent mastery of skills. The assumption that a child is unable to complete certain tasks as well as, or as quickly as the caregiver, may tempt caregivers or medical professionals to complete the tasks for the child, hindering learning of the task.
Since every child has the right to engage in play, adaptations are often necessary to make this happen. It has been shown that providing adaptations that allow children with physical disabilities to practice self-initiated mobility has the potential to facilitate their development to mirror more closely to that of their self-mobile peers (Deitz, Swinth, & White, 2002). Functional mobility is the gateway for environmental exploration and participation in a wide variety of occupations including play, leisure, and social participation. For young children with mobility impairments, adaptations such as a powered mobility device or a modified ride-on toy, aim to support development and participation in play. Go Baby Go! is an organization started by Cole Galloway and associates, which provides young children with mobility impairments access to a modified ride-on toy. These ride-on toys, as well as powered mobility devices, facilitate independent mobility, giving the child the power of choice. When children have the ability to direct their own learning and play activities, they are not only able to meet their own immediate needs, but also able to learn strategies to meet those needs in the future. Adversely, when a child is restricted from accessing their environment due to lack of self-initiated mobility, they are deprived of these same learning opportunities.
Many studies have been conducted to explore the effects of play on development by using mobility devices. In one study by Sonday and Gretschel (2016), the authors found that by engaging in exploratory play through early access to powered mobility devices, children were able to explore their environments in new ways and gain new functional skills such as intrinsic motivation, internal control, and freedom to choose (Sonday & Gretschel, 2016).
In a study by Guerette, Furumasu, & Tefft (2013), children demonstrated a substantial increase in the frequency of mobility activities in which they were engaged during free play after provision of powered mobility. This increased ability of the children to participate in mobility activities allowed them to be more integrated and involved with family and play activities (Guerette et al., 2013).
It has become clear how important access to early pediatric powered mobility devices is for children with mobility impairments. Increased participation in self- directed learning and environmental exploration can promote overall development and combat additional adverse conditions.
GoBabyGo! website, http://sites.udel.edu/gobabygo/
Deitz, J., Swinth, Y., & White, O. (2002). Powered mobility and preschoolers with complex developmental delays. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56(1), 86-96.
Guerette, P., Furumasu, J., & Tefft, D. (2013). The positive effects of early powered mobility on children’s psychosocial and play skills. Assistive Technology, 25(1), 39-48.
Sonday, A. & Gretschel, P. (2016). Empowered to play: A case study describing the impact of powered mobility on the exploratory play of disabled children. Occupational Therapy International, 23(1), 11-18. doi:10.1002/oti.1395