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Seeing a child's eyes light up when they take their first ride in a power wheel is special, but when a toddler with special needs gets behind the wheels, the smile is extra special. So is it possible to buy a modified power wheel?
Power wheels need modifications so kids with special needs can use them. Because each child is unique, commercially made power wheels are not available. Instead, the Baby Go Baby organization works with groups that host events for modified power wheel builds.
Without exploring the world, infants and toddlers lose out on the critical development necessary to learn from interacting with their environment. Continue reading as we explore to explore everything you need to know about power wheels for kids with special needs.
What Is a Modified Power Wheel?
A modified power wheel is a Power Wheel, such as the Fisher-Price Paw Patrol, that is modified so that a child with mobility needs can drive a toy car. These modifications can include additional railings, a seat that provides more support, a joystick instead of a steering wheel, and more.
A power wheel modified for a kid with special needs should be low to the ground and stable and have remote controls for the vehicle. Sometimes the stop and go operations that come with the power wheel will suffice. In some situations, additional modifications, such as an RC system, are required.
Since the vehicle will be modified, parents prefer to buy a less-expensive model. Also, 12-volt cars modeled on ATVs, motorbikes, and luxury vehicles would not be good candidates for modification.
Why Modify a Power Wheel?
Kids gain motor and cognitive skills from being able to explore their world. Physical activity plays an essential role in a kid's development. Memory, perception, attention, emotion, and decision making are skills kids develop while moving around. Kids with limited mobility don't have as many opportunities to learn those skills.
When parents try to find insurance coverage for children needing help with mobility, they learn it is practically non-existent. Manual wheelchairs are expensive and out of reach for most parents. But modifying power wheels will cost, on average, 200 dollars.
A child with special needs with limited mobility has an “exploration gap.” They are not able to participate in as many of these activities as a typically developing child. Check out this list from Michigan State University of movement activities a parent can use to further their development. Here are some suggestions:
- 6-12 months. Dance, explore through climbing and crawling, stand it on the bed, gently bounce, and help the baby walk without a walker.
- 12-18 months. Go for walks. Let your child play with riding toys and push shopping carts and doll strollers.
- 18-24 months. Increase opportunities to play inside and out. Create obstacle courses.
- 24-36 months. Teach your kid how to kick a ball. Take them to a playground and build forts for inside or outside play.
These activities would be challenging for most children with mobility limitations. Although a modified power wheel that a child can ride in or drive will not make up for all those shortcomings, it can provide kids with more opportunities than they currently have.
Modified power wheel benefits extend beyond physical and cognitive advances. Researchers in Taiwan studied whether the use of ride-on cars had social benefits for children with mobility issues. Their study demonstrated an increase in the children's social skills.
Finally, a kid that gets to “drive” a power wheel is having fun. And there is nothing wrong with that. The shared happy memories from that first drive are priceless.
Where Can One Buy a Modified Power Wheel?
Currently, no one manufactures a modified power wheel. But when you think about it, building a vehicle that could accommodate the range of children's needs would be impossible. A child with Down's Syndrome will require different modifications than one with muscular dystrophy.
Instead, power wheels are modified by groups such as Go Baby Go. Some parents choose to modify a car on their own. Luckily, instructions on how to do so are available online, so a parent who is somewhat handy can make one for their child.
We'll talk about both of those.
Groups That Modify Power Wheels
Go Baby Go is an organization that modifies toy cars for children with special needs. It grew out of experiments by Cole Galloway of the University of Delaware, who noticed a need for powered ride-on cars for children under 3.
Galloway, a physical therapy professor, wanted to close the “exploration gap.” He teamed up with a robotics engineer to build robots that allowed disabled children to explore their surroundings. However, the robots were impractical because they cost thousands of dollars and weighed 150 pounds.
A visit to Toys' R' Us inspired Galloway to shift from building expensive robots for toddlers to drive to modifying race cars for them. He began to “hack” Fisher-Price power wheel jeeps so they can be adapted for children with physical impairments. Not soon after, he founded the organization.
Where Are the Power Wheels Modified?
The University of Delaware does not have the resources to build modified power wheels, so other organizations have sprung up. The University of Oregon began to make them a few years later, and now many universities have projects. South Dakota University, Anderson University, and many others.
Colleges are not the only ones modifying power wheels. Individuals, such as an 8th grader in Washington state and high school students, like these Petoskey High School Paladins.
And regional organizations have partnered up with Go Baby Go as well. These include The Napa Center, Brooks Rehabilitation, and the Adaptive Sports Connection. Organizations typically host one or more events annually. The Go Baby Go Facebook page has inspirational stories and information about events.
How Can I Start a Chapter?
Unfortunately, the need for motorized power wheels far outweighs the demand, and many areas of the country would benefit from a chapter. Starting one requires putting the right people together. Along with an organizer (which could be you!), you would want to:
- Reach out to people who would be interested. A local pediatric clinic might be a good starting place.
- Find people who can help with the modifications. Although anyone can assist with modifying the vehicles, you do need someone who has some electrical experience to check the wiring is done correctly.
- Identify a family that would benefit from a modified power wheel.
The chapter would need to find volunteers, meet to organize events, and contact local media. The University of Delaware has a list of regional contacts, or visit the Go Baby Go community webpage.
Resources for Parents Who Want To Modify on Their Own
Parents who live in an area without a local chapter can modify a power wheel as long as they have some DIY experience. A local hardware store will have the required materials, and any not found there can be ordered online. And manuals can be found online.
For example, this modification manual has detailed instructions. Or the Go Baby Go site has a Jeep Modification Manual written by high school students that is more helpful. It includes detailed instructions with pictures of the wiring necessary to install a kill switch and replace the car's pedal with a push button.
You can also browse the web for YouTube videos, such as this one a build by physical therapists and high school students:
You cannot buy a power wheel car modified for children with special needs. Each car needs to be built and fitted for the individual child. Just like every kid is unique, each Power Wheel needs to be one-of-a-kind.