Disabled toddlers with mobility issues are less likely to participate in physical activity, play, or engagement with objects such as toys than their typical peers, say researchers at Oregon State University (OSU). The findings were announced on April 12, 2016, and were published in the journal Pediatric Physical Therapy.
Typical toddlers spend approximately three hours a day being physically active. “Whatever typically-developing kids do should be the gold standard for all children, including those with disabilities,” said Sam Logan, lead author of the study and assistant professor of kinesiology in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “The ability to move independently is a mechanism for a host of developmental benefits for children.”
The benefits include cognitive, motor, language, social development as well as opportunities to interact with their peers and surroundings. The study found that toddlers spent between six to under 20 minutes a day playing directly with their peers compared to typical toddlers who spent approximately an hour in interactive play.
Children with mobility disabilities may also be prevented from having active control over their ability to explore because they are carried or travel in a stroller. “Moving is not the objective, but if you’re not able to move independently, then play with peers or interaction with toys is even more difficult,” Logan said. “So how can we help these kids move more for play?” Disabled toddlers also had less variety in their physical activity and were less likely to interact with toys and other objects.
Researchers are now encouraging children with mobility disabilities to move by using adapted toys such as modified toy ride-on cars. Logan leads the Go Baby Go program, which provided the cars. The cars give children independence at a much younger age, allowing them the mobility needed to increase their interaction with peers and other objects, Logan said. The modified cars have proven effective, even among children with complex medical issues, he said.
Another study published in the Pediatric Physical Therapy featured case studies on three children with complex medical issues who used the cars. The children ranged in age from six months to five years old. They learned to drive the cars independently and used them to explore their environment. Some engaged in play based activities using the cars.
“The car becomes a tool,” Logan said. “It’s not just about getting from point A to point B. It’s about how the child is using the car to play and interact with peers and objects.” The most recent research involved cars that required the children to operate the car in a standing position, helping them to build the muscle strength that can prepare then to walk.
“The expectation should be that they have the same opportunities for mobility and play as any other kids,” Logan said. “Even the most complicated medical cases should not be barriers for play.”