Modified ride-on toy cars have opened up a whole new world for mobility-challenged children in a program that Dr. Ana Allegretti, assistant professor of occupational therapy, is using to study the impact of early independent mobility on development.
Allegretti collaborated with The Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletonUSA (CRIT) to bring the GoBabyGo! program to San Antonio. Founded by Dr. Cole Galloway at the University of Delaware, GoBabyGo! has spread to locations through the U.S. and the world.
“I met Cole two years ago at a conference and when I saw his workshop I became fascinated right way, because modifying the ride-on toy cars is easy to do,” Allegretti said. “It’s easy to do, it’s inexpensive and it’s fun for the kids.”
Children who are not independently mobile miss opportunities to interact socially and to actively engage with their world, which can lead to isolation.
“They are being carried by parents or being put in strollers, where they are being passive and being pushed around,” Allegretti said, explaining that giving children early independent mobility improves their cognitive, social, psychological, emotional and motor skills.
Allegretti initially tested the concept with a group of five children receiving services from CRIT. Since then, an additional twenty children ranging from 1 year to 6 years old have received toy cars modified in workshops attended by Allegretti’s students, professional therapists and parents. One of the modifications is a simple, red on/off switch the children can press to make the car move.
“When we build the cars, the parents are right there building the cars right next to the therapists and the kids are there,” said CRIT USA Chief of Medicine Dr. Ellen Leonard. “It’s social inclusion, it’s education, it's mobility—it's everything. It’s an awesome program.”
Funded in part with a $9,000 internal seed grant to develop the pilot data, the project is still in the pilot phase. Allegretti plans to eventually seek funding from the National Institutes of Health in about a year.
Parents report their delight in watching their children move.
“One of the things all the parents comment is how nice it is for them to see their kids playing in an age-appropriate toy without any disability, ” Allegretti said.
One month before receiving the cars, the children were given cognitive, social, fine and gross motor skills assessments. They undergo follow-up assessments one month and three months later, and their parents are interviewed. Allegretti said the children show improved social skills and fine motor skills, and CRIT’s Dr. Marlyn Cabrera noted that as a whole, the children have shown improvement three times what was expected.
"Some of the kids were nonverbal before the car, and then the first word they learned was ‘car,’” Allegretti said.