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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“Every time he saw one, he just had to run right to it and study it,” says his mother, Julianne. “I think we wound up seeing every map in the park.”
Running to anything is a somewhat more complicated process for Will than for many of us. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 16 months, Will cannot walk. Julianne and her husband, Gary, still don’t know if he ever will. But Will runs, thanks to a special chair.
So Julianne and Gary chase.
“Parents of children with severe mobility disabilities, such as children born with spina bifida, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, do not have the experience of having to chase their children when they begin crawling and walking,” says James C. Galloway of the University of Delaware’s Infant Motor Behavior Lab. “Parents of such children don’t get worn out and frazzled like parents of typically developing crawling and walking children do. My goal is to get these parents worn out and frazzled, too.”
So Galloway and a team of researchers from UD’s mechanical engineering-robotics department have developed a mobility robot—a motorized wheelchair with spatial sensors that direct an onboard computer—that allows children as young as six months to explore as if they could crawl or walk on their own.
“Adults love to explore with their cars,” Galloway says. “It’s the same for our kids in the robot chairs.”
The machine has generated much excitement and hope for parents of children with mobility disabilities. Andrew Peffley, age 3, has been “running” in one of Galloway’s robots since he was 6 months old. Andrew was born with spina bifida. His mother, Terri, an occupational therapist, vowed that her son would walk. She had Andrew enrolled in Galloway’s pediatric mobility project and, as a result, he can “commando” crawl now using his arms.
“Today Andrew accompanies his family on walks through Longwood Gardens and accompanies his three siblings on their walk to school,” Galloway says.
Page 2: Aye, Robot, continues...