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Early Years Powered Mobility and introducing Wizzybug!

14th July 2023

In support of Disability Awareness Day 2023 #DAD2023, on 16 July, we delighted to share this Voices blog by Lucy Norris, Partnerships & Engagement Officer at Designability, on early years powered mobility.

This short blog has been written by Designability, a UK charity that enables disabled people to live with greater independence. The charity works with families with young children with limited mobility and provides Wizzybugs free of charge to families on a loan basis.

Self-initiated mobility (the ability to move in space) is a basic right of childhood. Powered mobility gives disabled children this opportunity. Among the many benefits that the literature supports are: being able to make choice for the first time; opening up social participation and interaction in a completely new way; improving understanding of cause and effect; and unlocking the potential for child development through play.

With growing research into Early Years Powered Mobility (EYPM) provision over the last 20 years, the benefits of early use of EYPM are widely accepted. There is now a call to re-think the concept of mobility for children which concludes that it is not just about getting from A to B but is rather about ‘movement for movement’s sake’.

The impact is felt by the whole family not just the child. Children are enabled to interact with greater independence with their siblings and participate in family walks and outings and other activities of daily living.

Information from an outcome measure we use highlights the fact that parents want more choices for how their child mobilises. For instance, a child may manage a walker indoors but struggles outdoors, where a powered chair would be more effective. EYPM should be seen as part of this multi-modal approach to movement; after all we don’t only have one pair of shoes!

Wizzybug was designed specifically for very young children and is suitable from the age of 14 months up to a maximum weight of 20kg (approx. age 5). It is suitable for children whose mobility is affected by a number of conditions, including children who do not yet have a formal diagnosis. We do not focus on a child having good driving skills at the start, but rather that this is an opportunity for them to explore developing a range of skills using the Wizzybug.

Wizzybug is suitable for supervised indoor, outdoor and off-road use. Families can self-refer to the scheme by completing the application form on the website – they do not need to be referred by a therapist. Once the application form has been screened by our Occupational Therapists (OTs) and the family has been accepted onto the scheme, they will be invited to attend an appointment at either our HQ in Bath, at the William Merritt Centre in Leeds, or at the Mae Murray Foundation in Northern Ireland. A full seating assessment will be conducted during the appointment and, all being well, the family will then take the Wizzybug home with them. Families are shown how to adjust the Wizzybug as their child grows which is easily done without having to use any tools. Families on low-income who need assistance with the cost of attending their appointment including overnight accommodation, if necessary, can apply to our Access Fund for help.

The sight of a child realising that they are moving independently for the first time is a privilege to witness.  Families often find it overwhelming. We hear wonderful stories from families about their experiences with Wizzybug; the joy of watching their child choose what they want to play with for the first time ever, and seeing their child express choice to manage their emotions – even being able to drive off in a ‘huff’ like any other toddler when things are not going their way. We heard about a child who did donuts (with great glee!) for a full year before understanding he could drive forwards, the child who only ever drove backwards but absolutely loved it and was a proficient driver, the stories are endless.

Wizzybug has another more subtle benefit, it is often the first piece of ‘equipment’ that doesn’t look ‘medical’ with its eyes, headlights, and number plate. Other children love it, and we often hear that siblings are jealous of their brother or sister’s wheels! One family were even told they could not take Wizzybug into a theme park because the staff on the gate couldn’t believe that Wizzybug was a mobility aid – a different challenge that we work to overcome!

For families whose children have had a difficult start in life, whose lives may be limited by their condition, what a joy it is to be able to provide them with such a life-enhancing, envy-making, but most of all a fun addition to their family.

At the end of the free loan period, the Wizzybug is returned to Designability to be refurbished ready for another family to enjoy.

Health visitors can support families who would benefit from this type of support by signposting to Wizzybugs. Further details about Wizzybug, the loan scheme, user requirements, as well as resources to accurately measure the child and the application form can all be found on our website here.

Lucy Norris, Partnerships & Engagement Officer at Designability

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