Is the Future of Pediatric Power a Wild Thing?

Wild Thing 

Wild Thing in Stealth Products’ booth at the International Seating Symposium in March.

It is a fact that even the smallest pediatric power wheelchairs can engulf their littlest users. Systems of frames, batteries, electronics and power positioning can look and feel overwhelming to young consumers and their families.

What if there were a better way to introduce power mobility to small children?

Power Wheels & Go Baby Go

The Wild Thing seeks to redirect pediatric power mobility conversations. Originally created by toymaker Fisher-Price, it’s being reimagined by Stealth Products and Trident Research, a systems engineering company in Austin, Texas, that primarily works with the military but also enjoys moonlighting with Stealth Products. Wild Thing is one of Fisher-Price’s popular Power Wheels battery-driven toys; other Power Wheels configurations include scaled-down versions of Cadillac Escalades and Ford Mustangs.

Power Wheels are well known in pediatric mobility circles thanks to the Go Baby Go early-intervention project run by Cole Galloway, Ph.D., at the University of Delaware. For years, Galloway has introduced independent mobility to kids with such conditions as spina bifida and Down syndrome by putting them in Power
Wheels with simply modified hand controls and positioning constructed from pool noodles and PVC pipes.

Whenever Go Baby Go came up, Gabriel Romero, Stealth Products’ VP of sales & marketing, wished for more.

“I think [Go Baby Go] is great,” he said. “But every time I looked at it, I knew something bigger could be done with it.”

During an unrelated trip to Toys R Us, Romero saw a picture of Wild Thing on the side of a Power Wheels box. Unlike other Power Wheels models, which resemble automotive vehicles, Wild Thing is a design unto itself, a round, whirling contraption powered not by a foot pedal like other Power Wheels, but by hand controls.

After investigating Wild Thing, Romero located the person who’d created the toy.

“I found the designer, an industrial designer for Fisher-Price,” he said. “I reached out to him and said, ‘This is super cool. Let me tell you about us and our industry.’”

A Niche for Wild Thing

By all accounts (Galloway’s and Romero’s), Fisher-Price has warmly welcomed news of its Power Wheels toys being made more accessible to children with mobility impairments. Romero said Wild Thing’s developer, who’d been contracted to design the vehicle, relayed all the information he could, then put Romero in touch with a Fisher-Price contact.

“We reached out and surprisingly enough, in a couple of days we got a response,” Romero said. “He thought it was the coolest thing, what we were doing. We showed him videos of kids driving power wheelchairs with the i-Drive system, and said we thought we could bring our i-Drive system into Wild Thing. He said, ‘This is what we wanted.’ Fisher-Price wanted somebody to take it to the next level. They said, ‘What do you need?’”

Romero said Fisher-Price sent several complimentary Wild Thing vehicles and shared information about the toy’s electronics. Working from that, Trident Research had Stealth’s i-Drive alternative driving controls system connected to Wild Thing and was driving the toy within a few days.

Driving Future Power Chair Use

Stealth Products’ version of Wild Thing will feature i-Drive Basic, a control system with i-Drive functionality and a specific connection to Wild Thing. Tarta pediatric seating is Wild Thing compatible, and Romero anticipates working with other manufacturers’ pediatric seating as well.

Despite upgrades to the driving controls and seating, Wild Thing looks unmistakably like a toy, with a low-to-the-ground stance, diminutive size and bright colors. And Romero said early evaluations have borne that out.

In describing Wild Thing’s very first evaluation — with a toddler named Adrian who had a high cervical spinal cord injury — Romero said, “When we walked in there, he just lit up. Because it’s a toy. He had an older brother who also lit up.”

Adrian did so well with his Wild Thing evaluation that the rehab team evaluated him for a power chair immediately afterward.

“He did great in it,” Romero said. “We got the proper sizing, and because of his success in the Wild Thing, there wasn’t the fear that the therapist normally would have. But the mom was still telling us, ‘I’d rather have that Wild Thing.’”

Which brings up the question: Is Romero concerned that families enamored with Wild Thing will refuse to put their children in fully functional power wheelchairs?

Actually, Romero expects the opposite response.

“A lot of people said, ‘You’re going to be taking away from power sales.’ But there are families who are not getting into power. I’ve heard more parents saying, ‘I’ve got a power chair, and it’s sitting in the garage.’ What we’re doing is we’re preparing power sales for the future.

“I love what therapists are saying: ‘This is the most comfortable we’ve seen her while using [a power mobility device], without everyone jumping in and trying to stop her from hitting something.’ With [Wild Thing], it’s okay if they get close to the wall because it’s not going to do any damage. Therapists have mentioned, ‘This is the most training we’ve gotten using a mobility device. Every other time, we’ve had to cut it short because the family doesn’t feel comfortable or I don’t feel comfortable.’”

A Bridge to Power Mobility

Wild Thing seating and specialty electronics will be easily removable, thus preserving Wild Thing’s original functionality and controls. The result: a toy that’s accessible to kids with disabilities, and to able-bodied siblings and friends as well.

Wild ThingStealth plans to introduce a Wild Thing app with Remote Stop and a Tethering Mode option. “Wild Thing cannot get away from a parent,” Romero said. “It will stay within the distance needed to receive a signal from the app. Our phones send a Bluetooth signal out, so the app will connect to the device and will be pinging it. When it sees Wild Thing pass a certain distance, it will stop the device: You’re too far away from your parent. It’ll allow the parent to come up to it, restart it, and the child can go.”

Stealth has priced its Wild Thing at under $800, a price point that allows providers to sell it as a retail product and family members to band together to buy it. “What would be included is the Wild Thing and our driver control, a very simple one so kids could start exploring and playing,” Romero said. (An out-of-the-box Wild Thing retails for $260 on Fisher-Price’s Web site.)

He anticipates that ATPs and therapists will apply for funding for the seating, if needed, and perhaps a manual wheelchair base. Wild Thing could then be a cash add-on.

More importantly, Wild Thing could help families — and clinicians — to overcome doubts they have about the viability of independent mobility for their very young children.

“Many children miss the opportunity for independence because their families are not ready,” he said. “When you look at even a small power chair, it still has motors that can take the chair through the wall. It can outpace a family member and pull a family member if they’re trying to hold it back. Once parents see they can’t control it, the fear comes. Already the fear is there of not understanding their child’s diagnosis and what the outcomes are going to be. There’s just a lot of fear when it comes to their child’s safety.”

Wild Thing’s size makes it easy to stash in a car, and best of all, it’s a toy, one that will appeal to all kids.

“The occupation of a child is to play,” Romero said. “We’re going to start creating an organization in our company to connect and bridge the able-bodied to people with disabilities.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Mobility Management.

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