Yes, machine-assisted mobility training helps the youngest of the disabled learn to get around—but it also helps them think and communicate faster, and that means better emotional development. UD researchers are showing how.
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Galloway is driven by time and the small window of opportunity for infants with mobility disabilities. “We know our bodies so well that we know automatically how our bodies fit in the world.” That’s not the case for children who obtain power chairs later in life. They need time to adapt to the space limitations of their chairs.
Younger children may have a learning advantage. Andrew Peffley at 2 ½ no longer needed to look left and right to determine if his chair will fit through a doorway, as he did when he started training. “He’s already calculated what his clearance in the chair requires,” Galloway says.
More important, both Andrew and Will Harp are working harder to walk than they would have without robot training, Galloway believes.
The Peffleys were able to obtain a custom Permobil-built chair for home use. Terri Peffley says she had to overcome the feeling that a power chair meant Andrew would never walk. “We have found, though, the power chair has given Andrew the ability to move beyond the commando crawl to crawling using his hips and knees,” she says.
The chair allows Andrew to realize he can do things for himself, Peffley says. He doesn’t have to settle for being a spectator. “He will say to us now ‘Andrew walking’ when he’s in the chair, or, when competing for a toy with his brothers and sisters, cries out, ‘I win!’”
The chair has proven essential to his emotional and personality development, Peffley says. “We’ve noticed an improvement in his cognitive perception, social skills and self-esteem and image,” she says. “And now he has made the connection between mobility and walking.”
Peffley has also noticed that Andrew loves “joyriding.” “He sees the chair as an extension of himself, and not just a toy.”
His 5-year-old brother appears inclined to agree. “Where was my chair when I was Andrew’s age?” he’s asked his mother. Older sister Abbi’s friends think Andrew’s chair is “smart and cool.”
“Abbi’s friends say, ‘That’s awesome’ when they see Andrew in his chair, not something like, ‘Aw, that’s so sad.’ As a result, Andrew is excited to show his chair to strangers,” Peffley says.
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