Occupational and physical therapy students in Austin teamed up to modify two toy cars for local children through GoBabyGo.
How do you help a child who has Down syndrome keep up with his siblings? By customizing a toy car to suit his needs and increase his independent mobility. Last month, that’s what students Stephanie Hector and Laura Waples did in partnership with other students from the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) and Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs on the Austin campus.
After reviewing the child’s needs, they brainstormed ways to modify a SpongeBob car so he could use it to follow his brothers on their bikes or around the yard safely, ultimately allowing him to increase his social participation. They modified the car so it operates with a single red button that must be continually pressed for the car to move. Next, they added PVC pipe and foam to the sides of the car for additional cushioning. Finally, they retrofitted the seat and seat belt to provide full lumbar support, but also make it easy for him to get in and out without assistance.
In September, the students invited the child, Mason, and his family to campus. “When we put Mason in the car, his smile magnified 10 times,” Hector says. “It was a rewarding moment for me as a therapist, teaching him how to use the button. We had students line up in the hallway as he drove back and forth. He put his hand up to wave each time. Seeing him more mobile than he ever had been before was so rewarding.” His dad gave him high fives as he sped through the halls and his mother had tears in her eyes. “She said we changed her world,” she shares.
Hector first became involved with these cars through the Assistive Technology and Community Service course, taught by Professor Katie Bouchillon, and GoBabyGo, a program conceived at the University of Delaware to build and donate modified cars to children with disabilities. When designing her project, she asked Professor Megan Flores, who also works for a home health pediatric company, if a child she worked with could use this vehicle. Once paired up with a child, Hector worked with Spero Rehab, which operates a clinic on the Austin campus, to secure a donation for a car and began retrofitting a Batmobile at the parents’ request.
Since the car needed extensive adaptations, Hector turned to her faculty for help. Professor Larry Faulkner, an occupational therapist with rehabilitation engineering training, helped rewire the car to simplify its mechanics to suit the child’s needs. Additional occupational therapy students joined the project to help Hector as they extensively modified the seat and seat belt, replacing it with a thermoplastic molded swing to add full postural support.
After completing these projects, Hector and Waples realized they wanted to make the project ongoing to benefit all of the students on campus. In partnership with Professor Flores, Waples is currently organizing an event in April to bring in Oregon State University Assistant Professor Sam Logan, who helped start the GoBabyGo project, to allow him to share the benefits of the program, how to start a chapter, and lead approximately 40 students as they retrofit 10 cars for local children that day.
Hector and Waples, who have begun their fieldwork and internships, share how meaningful the project has been: “I love that the field of occupational therapy allows me to be so creative,” Hector says. Waples agrees. “Helping occupational and physical therapists work together at a learning level will ultimately help us grow when we start our careers. This project taught me to build close relationships across professions.”