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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Lack of mobility in children with disabilities limits emotional development due to the frustration of not being able to move, McCormick says. Learning disabilities “are tied to the ability to interact with environment via mobility,” he says. “Power mobility takes the place of stimulating brain activity that is not activated by typical mobility.”
Debbie Kiser, a physical therapist with The John G. Leach School in New Castle, a public school for children with disabilities, says physical therapists have always believed there was a connection between mobility and cognition, “and I’m happy to see there is research being done showing that to be true.”
Leach’s student population includes children with severe disabilities, which makes mobility a big issue at the school. Though Leach has programs in power chair training, it had nothing like Galloway’s robot. Kiser was most impressed with the sensors equipped on the chair that served to keep the child safe during training.
“[Galloway] will reach a greater population of children with disabilities with his robot than can be reached now,” Kiser says. She is excited about getting one of Galloway’s robots into Leach’s training program.
“Power chair training does improve a child’s abilities,” Kiser says. “And any mobility capacity they are able to build on their own is fantastic for developing self-direction and independence.”
McCormick credits Galloway with getting the idea of mobility and cognitive development into the literature. “Now we can get investment people involved in the commercial development of Galloway’s robot,” he says.
That may already have begun. When Galloway contacted the U.S. offices of Swedish-based Permobil about his robot, he struck a chord with pediatric specialist Amy Meyer. “I clicked with him immediately, since I’ve had the same philosophy about pediatric mobility,” says Meyer.
The market for pediatric power chairs remains undefined, Meyer says. Much of that has to do with the parents of children with disabilities. “Many parents feel that placing their child in a power chair means giving up on their hope that their child will one day walk on their own.” And some therapists fear patients will become lazy and lose their desire to walk, she says. “As a result major power chair manufacturers have shied away from developing chairs for infants.”
Meyer describes Permobil as a small, growing company that seeks niche markets where it can individualize its product line. She sees a future for commercial development of Galloway’s robot. “Really, the market is as ready as it ever will be,” she says.
Page 4: Aye, Robot, continues...