Last time we broached the topic of choosing pediatric wheelchairs. Today we continue this discussion, and focus in on how to choose your search criteria. We also cover the types of pediatric mobility aids. This way you can hone in on the right pediatric wheelchair models and options for your child.
Choosing pediatric wheelchairs: criteria for your search
Unlike in decades long past, today there is a tremendous variety of pediatric power wheelchairs and pediatric manual wheelchairs on the market today. Each of these models is specifically designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities and/or mobility challenges. Pediatric wheelchairs also come in a wide array of colors and styles, and they offer a nice range of options, all of which make them so much more appealing to children than in the past. Many models even adjust to grow with your child.
Here are some of the most important criteria that can impact the process for choosing pediatric wheelchairs:
Your child’s needs: Selecting an appropriate pediatric wheelchair starts with a professional assessment of your child’s needs. The child’s healthcare provider should give you a comprehensive sense of the child’s growth forecast, health condition, mobility restrictions, needs, physical abilities, and current size.
Functional and environmental requirements: Where will your child need to use the chair? What will s/he be doing? Will the chair be used mostly outdoors? Or will it be mostly inside? Will your child need to be able to be elevated to an upright position? Does the wheelchair need to climb stairs? All of these issues will impact your decisions.
Appeal for your child: Wheelchair users of any age see their chairs in a very personal way, as extensions of themselves. For this reason a wheelchair’s color, comfort, features, fit, and style are always critical. This is especially true for young users, for whom personal style can be a pivotal factor in the selection process.
Transportation issues: Finally, you’ll need to factor in how you want or need to transport your child’s wheelchair. For example, power wheelchairs, even pediatric models, are significantly bulkier and heavier than standard manual chairs. If you need a power model, you’ll need to have a big enough vehicle to transport it, or sufficient public transit options in your area. You’ll also need a lift or rack for your vehicle, and you may need to be sure you won’t need additional help when transporting the wheelchair.
Types of pediatric wheelchairs
To determine whether your child will best be served by a manual wheelchair, a power wheelchair, an electric scooter, or an alternative wheelchair, you’ll need to understand the differences between these options. Here are the basics for choosing pediatric wheelchairs.
Manual wheelchairs: Depending on your child’s abilities and needs, a manual pediatric wheelchair can be propelled by your child, or by you or another caregiver. These pediatric manual wheelchairs can be moved with the user’s arms or legs, or when pushed by someone else. Manual pediatric wheelchairs come in a number of subtypes including lightweight models, sports wheelchairs, standard models, standing wheelchairs that allow your child to rise to a standing position without leaving the chair, and transport chairs.
Manual pediatric wheelchairs can look as unique as their users. They can be ordered with colored accessories and bright, patterned upholstery to appeal more to young users. Children can be very creative about customizing the look of their wheelchairs!
“Grow wheelchairs” are a great option for many children because they are designed to change and be resized over time to fit their users as they change in size. If you can find a grow wheelchair that works for your child, you can rest assured that instead of needing a new chair every year you can just adjust the grow chair instead. Replacement components and adjustments will allow you to convert the wheelchair into a larger size as your child grows.
Electric wheelchairs or power wheelchairs: For children who need independent mobility but cannot independently move a manual wheelchair, electric or power wheelchairs are the right choice. The ability to move a wheelchair isn’t always a clear cut issue, so developmental and physical factors like coordination, posture, and visual perception should be considered here. Where your child will be using the chair is also important, and remember, supervision and proper training are critical for all pediatric power wheelchair users.
Just like with manual pediatric wheelchairs, electric pediatric wheelchairs offer lots of options and opportunities for customization in terms of colors and upholstery. Typically power wheelchairs for children feature joystick controls, although there are many other ways to control these chairs, including chin switches, head switches, push-button controls, sip-n-puff systems, tillers, and trackballs. Many chairs also offer the ability to recline, change seat height, and even stand.
Child mobility scooters: Child-sized mobility scooters are great options for children who retain some ability to walk, but need a fallback alternative for extended distances. Scooters demand arm function for steering and upper body strength; children must also be able to transfer on and off of this kind of scooter.
Alternative and recreational chairs: Choosing pediatric wheelchairs sometimes means choosing an alternative! For children with different recreational interests and mobility needs there are other pediatric wheelchair and equipment options. Hand-cycle bikes are speedy choices that are very appealing to children. They come custom-made in a rainbow of colors in single or multi-speed models. These bikes make transfers easy with their sliding seats and flip-up footrests, too. And if your child likes sports, they’ll love seeing what disabled athletes are doing with hand-cycles!
Hand-propelled or powered wheelchair carts are another fun option for children. These look a lot like go-karts and the child’s legs and feet are supported outstretched as s/he sits near the ground and uses the chair.
Mobility strollers are another choice for young children. These look a lot like strollers, although most have fairly rugged, heavy-duty wheels that allow them to be pushed over many kinds of terrain.