A child can need a wheelchair for many different reasons like Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, injuries to their head or spine, some may be amputees and some may need a wheelchair occasionally due to muscle weakness.
The right pediatric wheelchair can make an incredible difference to a child’s growth by bringing in confidence, independence and a sense of achievement. This in turn starts a process of development and well-being as they continue to grow. Having independence of mobility allows them to increase their interaction with people and their surrounding environment.
For parents, the process of obtaining a wheelchair for their child can be overwhelming, both financially and emotionally. Here are some important criteria that can help to decide on choosing the right pediatric wheelchair:
- The Assessment: Selecting a pediatric wheelchair starts with a professional assessment of the child’s mobility needs. Look to gain advice from a Physiotherapist or Occupational therapist with seating and positioning experience and wheelchair vendors with RESNA certifications in Assistive Technology and seating and mobility. Some of the considerations you will be taking into account are: your child’s physical abilities, functional skills, ability to use joysticks and switches, ability to control head and eye movements and upper and lower extremities, appropriate mobility controls and need for posture support and seating.
- Functional needs: Make a list of the functional requirements such as where the child will be using the wheelchair – Indoors, outdoors, school, playground or parks? What will they be doing? Will they need to move up or down stairs often? Is there a need to be able to be elevated to an upright position or lay flat? Does your child want to play sports? These answers can impact your buying decision. You want to make sure your child’s goal is to be able to do what they want in their wheelchair as much as possible.
- Social Needs: Take into consideration how the child will face social situations. What are the child’s hobbies, temperament and lifestyle? Will the child feel impatient and frustrated to learn how to use the controls on a powered wheelchair? How does the child cope with being different? Does the child make friends easily?
- Adjustability: Certain pediatric wheelchairs are designed to expand in size to accommodate the child’s growth in size and weight. Look for models that feature seat width and depth adjustability, elevating leg rests and other adjustable features suitable for a child. A wheelchair like this can last for many years, making it a wise investment.
- Weight of the Wheelchair: Weight matters when it comes to a pediatric wheelchair, as children should find it easy to propel. Remember to also examine the weight of accessories and seating system along with the frame of the wheelchair to determine the final weight of your child’s chair.
- Appeal: The look of the chair can be critical when it comes to a young user as their personal style can be a key factor in the selection process. Children prefer to go for something with color to reflect their personalities. It is important to remember to be practical about choosing permanent colors on wheelchair as it can be a long term commitment.
- Comfort: A seating and mobility specialist can advise you on what will be most comfortable for your child as they will be seated for long periods of time. Choosing the right size and material of cushions that provides proper support as well as a foot and arm rest that is positioned correctly is important to maintain the comfort of your child.
- Transportation: Parents and caregivers should look at how they need to transport their child’s wheelchair. A child may take the school bus, public transportation or a personal vehicle, so it is important to factor in how the wheelchair can fit in the mode of transportation. It is essential to what transport related features you should consider: such as folding frames, removable seating, quick release wheels, etc. You should also know how easy it would be to break down and reassemble the wheelchair while travelling and if doing that needs assistance or can it be done independently. You may need a wheelchair lift or racks for the vehicle.
- Choose between Power or Manual operation: A power operated wheelchair is helpful for those children who may not have full use or muscle strength of their arms. If a child does have a fully functioning upper body, it would be better to choose a manual wheelchair; this way they are able to build muscle strength while moving themselves around. Other wheelchair options include those that address their recreational interests such as sports or beach mobility strollers.
During wheelchair assessments, make sure to involve the child in the discussions as it will help start the education process about their body and equipment. They can help make the right decisions about the equipment fitting process as well. By accounting for your child’s physical needs and social challenges, you will be able to select the right pediatric wheelchair which is essential for their development, independence and confidence.
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