Learning to crawl and walk affords children opportunities to explore their world. As such, early childhood mobility is intertwined with other formative childhood milestones, such as motor skill development and learning to negotiate social encounters. Disabled children who may have difficulty reaching mobility milestones, are thus at risk for missing out on opportunities for play and exploration that are critical to cognitive, social, and motor skill development. Samantha Ross, a PhD student in the Kinesiology, Adapted Physical Activity program within the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, asks the question: how can we support the movement experiences of children with mobility disabilities to ensure they have equitable access to play, exploration and social encounters?
The experience of movement Ride-on cars are modified, child-sized, battery powered vehicles designed to support children with disabilities during play. The ride-on car is equipped with a large button to initiate movement, as well as structural modifications to enhance body support. As part of her research, Samantha observes children with and without disabilities participating in an inclusive play group. She monitors changes in the behavior of individual children, and video analysis helps her to track their distance traveled while using a ride-on car. Factors including whether the child initiated their own movement, if movement included interaction with a peer, or was motivated by a toy, all contribute to a child’s experience of mobility. The ride-on car facilitates the initiation of new relationships among children, noticeably reducing the barrier between children with and without disabilities and promoting equitable play experiences.
The impact of impaired mobility is nuanced Nearly thirty years of research has indicated that young children can benefit from powered mobility devices. However, the field is dominated by the medical perspective of reducing disability. In recent years, a major push from disability groups has emphasized the importance of community and social interactions in enhancing the well-being of children with disabilities. Mobility cannot be distilled down to simply moving from point A to point B, rather the self-perceived experience of movement and how movement facilitates encounters with people and objects is integral to children’s feelings of well-being. It is important for children to feel valued for their contribution. Samantha’s goal is to facilitate a social environment that enhances the well-being and development of children with disabilities, thereby promoting equitable access to a healthy and active childhood.
Following graduate school, Samantha would like to continue her involvement in research at one of the University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, representing a partnership between state, federal, academic, and disability communities. Samantha explains, “We need to hear from people with disabilities – we need everyone at the table for the system to work.” These centers provide the interface between policy and research, where priorities are weighed and decisions are made. Often headquartered at medical schools, the centers raise awareness and help train future healthcare professionals. Samantha would love to be involved in this discussion.