The Next Generation: Power Mobility As Therapeutic Intervention?

Not so long ago, “early-intervention” power mobility meant giving 5- and 6-year-olds access to power wheelchairs.

Now that power mobility access is being offered, at least in some settings, to children 12 months old and younger, what is early intervention’s next horizon?

A possible answer: using power mobility as a potentially temporary, therapeutic intervention for children who will likely learn to ambulate later in life, but whose independent mobility — and therefore, many other aspects of development — will be significantly delayed.

Referring to power mobility as therapeutic intervention, Permobil’s Amy Morgan, PT, ATP, says, “Kids with Down’s (syndrome), I think, could utilize power mobility on a more transient basis, supplementing their lack of mobility until they get that skill. Any child that has a mobility impairment, no matter what their diagnosis is, and is unable to functionally move on a developmental sequence or very close to the developmental sequence should have some type of supplemental mobility and intervention in their life so they can continue to develop.”

For such children, Morgan says, power chair usage would be shorter term, “until their motor skills get to the point where they’re functionally able to move themselves around without the chair. You continue the therapeutic intervention on the motor skills, but get them a means of development and interaction and appropriate peer activities while they’re working on those skills.”

Morgan acknowledges that parents can find it very difficult to opt for power mobility for a child who may eventually learn to walk: “They want to focus all efforts and require them to use walking and crawling, even if it totally wears (the child) out and it’s not functional.” Even therapists, she says, can believe that introducing power mobility may hamper efforts to teach a child to walk.

“That’s the mentality that I try to challenge out there,” she says. “We’re not holding them back by putting them in a power chair. They need to have this access for their cognitive development, their social development. And if they gain some mobility skills and start gaining some ambulation, that’s wonderful. Let’s supplement that.”

Morgan also knows the “current funding environment and our current therapeutic environment haven’t quite embraced that concept yet,” in part because of the relatively high cost of power chairs. Still, she says of using power chairs as therapeutic intervention, “I believe it’s on the verge of happening. It’s a progressive thought, a correct thought in my opinion. In a perfect world, that would happen with every child with any mobility limitation.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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