A study at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center shows that children as young as 14 months can operate power wheelchairs, and using the device might actually encourage them to become more mobile.
The next phase of research, which is still under way, looks at how motorized wheelchairs might affect emotional and cognitive development, and how this affects the family as a whole.
Presley Vargas, a 3-year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy, is one of 41 children in cities across Oklahoma and in Chicago who were part of the yearlong study.
The girl's mother, Megan Vargas, said the chair has made Presley want to work harder at being active.
“She actually wanted to get up and wanted to walk,” Vargas said. “She'll even say, ‘Mom, will you help me walk?' It's liberated me and her.”
Maria Jones, who led the study at the Oklahoma center, said she's found that the toddlers want to be mobile when they're not in a motorized chair.
In Presley's case, she can usually sit up on her own and can perform a sort of army crawl across the floor, but she still gets tired easily, her mother said. Presley started the program when she was 18 months old.
Her progress helps illustrate Jones' findings regarding the power chairs.
“That's their primary way of getting around,” the researcher said. “When they're outside the chair they work that much harder to move around on their own.”
During a news conference Tuesday in Oklahoma City, Presley, of Duncan, showed off her ability to wheel around the building.
She wore a black lace top, a black bow in her long blond hair, and sandals with sequins.
She chattered about her new dog, Charlie, who is a spaniel-poodle mix, while her parents talked about their experiences during the program.
“I feel like now she's a normal 3-year-old,” her mother said. “I have to run after her, chase her and say, ‘No, you can't get into that.'”Intern blog: Infants and power chairs
I think (it's about) overcoming that barrier, saying, ‘No, it really is just a mechanism to allow them to walk,' if you will, and to explore their environment.”