Wheels for Toddlers


By Kathy Allen

About 1.6 million Americans not in institutions use wheelchairs, according to data from the University of California, San Francisco Disability Statistics Center. Very few of these people are children. Only 0.1 percent of the population under 18 years of age uses wheelchairs. Children may need the help of a wheelchair for many reasons. Among them are injuries to the legs, injuries to the spine, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. They may need a wheelchair for the short-term or permanently, and children can start using them when they're as young as 1 year old. Whatever age they start, children in wheelchairs face more obstacles than those who don't depend on one to get around. However, with training and experience, kids who use wheelchairs can go to school, shop, play and eventually drive cars.

BETTER WHEELCHAIRS: Thanks to advancements in technology, wheelchairs today are lighter, faster and easier to use than ever before. Many operate by computer technology and offer support for a person's back, neck, head and legs. Some kids may benefit from using a power wheelchair instead of a manual one. Power wheelchairs feature electronic controllers, so a child can drive smoothly and brake easily. Some can be powered by puffing on a special straw or simply touching the controller. When choosing a wheelchair for a child, parents have many options. Most wheelchairs fall into the following categories: standard, child/junior/growing, lightweight, sport, standing, reclining/tilt-in-space and transport.

WHAT IS ARTHROGRYPOSIS? Arthrogryposis describes a number of rare conditions that cause stiff joints and abnormal muscle development. Typically, patients with the non-progressive condition have shoulders that are internally rotated and adducted, elbows that are stiff in extension or flexion and wrists and fingers that are flexed. In some cases, the condition affects nearly every joint in the body, including the jaw and back. According to the Children's Hospital Boston, the exact number of children the condition affects is unknown, but previous studies have estimated it to be one to three out of every 10,000 live births. For most types of arthrogryposis, physical and occupational therapy can help improve muscle strength, function and flexibility at the joints. Some cases require casting, splinting and surgery. Since every case of arthrogryposis is different, the outlook varies widely.

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