Zoom Kids program gives children freedom to move independently

December 21, 2017

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Zoom Kids program gives children freedom to move independently

Jordan Spencer and Adrian Taypotat with their son Bentley in one of the Zoom Kids cars. Photo: Communications

The Children’s Program at Wascana Rehabilitation Centre sees children with a wide range of disabilities. Clinicians are constantly working to create, or adapt tools to help children grow and become as independent as possible.

One such assessment tool is a modified battery-powered car in a program called Zoom Kids that launched this winter.

Engineering students at the University of Regina volunteered to modify three ride-on cars, adapting them with switches and sensors —providing an opportunity for independent mobility as early as 18 months.

Previously, therapists could not start power mobility treatment with children until they were ready for a wheelchair around the age of three. Earlier intervention leads to earlier independence and developmental benefits for these children, said Kimberly Woycik, manager of the Children’s program.

“The parents are so excited to have their children in something that other children of the same age are driving,” said Kim Schaan, an occupational therapist in the Children's Program at Wascana Rehabilitation Centre. “Some of these children struggle to hold up their head or reach out for a toy and so we love seeing the excitement when they get to move themselves. We are striving for activities other children are doing at the same age.”

Research shows that young children with disabilities grow in more ways than physical strength when they have opportunities to play and explore in the same manner as their peers. Independent mobility is linked to cognitive, social, motor, language and other developmental benefits in young children. Unfortunately, there is a lack of commercially available devices to help young children with mobility issues get around on their own.

Three cars were purchased with funds donated by Pipeline of Dreams. Pipeline of Dreams has raised more than $503,000 for the Children’s Program at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre, working alongside the Hospitals of Regina Foundation since 2004.

One of the cars, which Bentley Maximum Spencer, 2, was driving, requires help from an adult to steer.

“They converted the gas pedal for us and we can put it anywhere we want, so for Bentley it’s that green button on the steering wheel,” said Schaan.

Bentley is in the beginner model (pictured). The other cars are adapted differently for children with more mobility. In one model, the child can control stop, go and the direction. The other is a bulldozer vehicle which will become equipped with a power wheelchair joystick.

“The first time we put him in it we noticed Bentley had some cause and effect thinking. Before, he would reach for things but we weren’t sure if it was purposeful movement,” said Jill Smith-Windsor, an occupational therapist.

“This movement was deliberate. When he is in the car, he looks around and stops when he wants… It gets him engaged in his environment. It’s a motivating tool.”

All models come equipped with sensors so that children don’t mistakenly run into walls or people. They’re even Bluetooth compatible and parents can sync them up to their Smart Phones. If the child gets too far away the car will die when it stops sensing the Bluetooth signal.”
The engineering students volunteered their time in between classes and their dedicated research projects to customize the cars. Expenses for electrical adaptation have been absorbed by the University of Regina’s Engineering Department.

Professor Raman Paranjape, head of Electronic Systems Engineering, said he and his students have found the work rewarding.

“We’re thrilled to be part of this. We build control systems all the time but it’s nice to see how it’s helping these kids.”

Bentley’s parents have found the experience with Zoom Kids to be rewarding as well. The two-year-old contracted bacterial meningitis when he was three months old which resulted in some other conditions including profound hearing loss, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. This was his fourth time riding in the car and it was father`s first time seeing him do so.

“I wasn’t able to make any of his last appointments so it’s great to see, it’s exciting. I can tell he likes it,” said Jordan Spencer.

“It made my day seeing him drive,” said mother, Adrian Taypotat. “He touched the button; he remembered that means ‘go’ I really think he likes it.”

Eventually the Children’s Program would like to expand their fleet of ride-on-cars and establish a program that would loan out the cars to Regina families to use at home.

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