Advancements in technology have given kids with special needs and mobility issues more freedom than ever before! Depending on the mobility equipment, babies as young as eight months old can learn to explore their surroundings more independently, and older children with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other medical conditions are able to gain more of the autonomy every child desires.
As with any big change in life, adapting to new mobility equipment comes with a steep learning curve. But by giving your child the adjustment period they need and being by their side as they overcome their struggles, they’ll gain the confidence they need for this new adventure!
Here’s how a little planning and patience can go a long way in helping your child.
- Prep them on what to expect. Any change—even a happy one—can be difficult for a child who is shaken by any shift in the status quo, especially if they have anxiety, autism or developmental delays. Explain to your child how the process will work—show them videos of the equipment before going in for their evaluation and fitting. Share how the equipment will let them play more freely with other kids. And explain how they’ll be able to do more things on their own without always depending on you.
- Make them part of the process – As you work with your child’s occupational or physical therapist and mobility equipment vendor, be sure to include your child in the decision process if they’re able to participate. Encourage them to ask questions, speak up if they’re uncomfortable, and bring up any concerns they have. Also, try to schedule evaluations and demonstrations when your child is more apt to be relaxed—if you do them late in the day, they may be tired and more likely to get frustrated.
- Give them plenty of time to practice – According to experts, don’t expect your child to master their new equipment immediately or listen to your instructions right off the bat, said one physical therapist to Mobility Management magazine, “Children learn best through play and exploring for themselves. Too many verbal directions can be confusing, distracting and create fear… At first, children need a large, open, safe space where they can learn to control direction and just ‘explore.’” As with any obstacle they’ve worked to overcome, you should provide appropriate help, but encourage them to find a solution on their own first.
- Get your home ready for their new independence. When a child receives new mobility equipment, adjustments may need to be made to the home to protect their safety as they get used to their freedom. Make sure floors are free of slippery rugs, worn carpet and electrical cords. Put a gate at the top of the stairs to prevent them from falling. And add handgrips to areas around the house, such as the bathroom and bedroom. Handicare can connect you with a mobility expert that can provide additional recommendations when installing equipment in your home.
- Help them maneuver around their school. If your child is older, encourage them to take a trial run around school using their new equipment to identify any issues that might affect their growing independence, such as narrow doorways, steep ramps, crowded corridors, and inadequate restroom facilities. It’s also important to discuss how the school charges and stores power wheelchairs if that’s the equipment your child uses. Together with school personnel, you can address any concerns and identify modifications that can be made to ensure the safety and autonomy of your child.
While this time in your child’s life is an exciting one, it’s important to remember it can be an overwhelming one as well, and they’ll need a hand to hold throughout the process. Together with their care team and your equipment vendor, you can help empower your child and ensure they’re ready to take on the world with their newfound freedom!