PVC ratchet cutters, screwdrivers, and wire strippers may not be among the tools usually used by physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants. But at the APTA NEXT Conference and Exposition session "Go Baby Go: Mobility Research, Design, and Technology," those and other devices---such as electrical tape, collections of screws, a power drill, and myriad other items---were literally part of a clinician’s toolbox.
Jason Craig, PT, DPhil, and Skye Donovan, PT, PhD, led the session, which addressed the importance of mobility for young children. The program---conducted on both June 13 and 14---primarily focused on actually converting 9 battery-powered children’s ride-on cars into effective, affordable mobility devices. Go Baby Go is a national program developed by Cole Galloway, PT, PhD.
The cars that arrive from the toy manufacturer are designed to be operated with a foot pedal. But Craig explained, "Most kids can't operate a pedal, so we have a large button that can be positioned anywhere on the car." Usually the button is in the steering wheel---which was where conference participants placed them in the 9 onsite cars---but the location can change based on the child’s need. "We've placed it behind the head when the goal is to improve a child's posture," Craig said. "We placed one on the seat so the car would move only when the child stood up; it stopped as soon as he sat down."
In addition to enhancing interventions, the modified toys serve another purpose. "This is about providing the children an experience they haven't had. By providing these cars, the children can explore the world," he said.
It's also affordable. The cars as modified cost approximately $150 "versus thousands for a motorized wheelchair."
Pointing to an array of unmodified, rideable cars on tables in the room, Craig then told the session attendees: "We need you to build these, because the kids are coming in later today for their cars." Each car was accompanied by an information sheet on the child---including his or her name, age, diagnosis, and interests.
The session attendees worked in teams of 4 to 6 to modify the cars---disconnecting the pedal power control and connecting the large red plastic button the size of a small plate to the center of the steering wheel. The task was challenging not only because many PTs weren't familiar with the hardware tools and wiring schematics but also because of variations in both the cars and the needs of the children.
About an hour into the session, the children and their parents began arriving, with the children telling the PT team working on "their" car what customizations and decals they wanted. Most of the cars were finished that day---a few needed additional work---and the session ended with the children test-driving their cars around the room and down the hotel's halls.