Supporting a child with mobility impairment

May 9, 2016 Published by

What is Mobility Impairment?

Approximately six per cent of children in the UK have a disability. Not all children with mobility impairment use a wheelchair – in fact, less than eight per cent of all disabled people require a wheelchair.

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common childhood motor disabilities, affecting around one in 400 children in the UK. It affects muscle control and movement and is usually caused by injury to the brain before, during or after birth.

Child With Walking Frame to Support Mobility Impairment

(Photo credit: Paul Eisenberg)

How to support your child’s learning, development and independence

Physical problems may cause difficulty sitting up to eat or drink, and to also swallow or chew. A physiotherapist or speech and language therapist may be able to advise you on positioning your child to eat. Aids such as non-slip mats and adapted cutlery can also help. Your child may also have trouble sleeping due to a range of physical difficulties, like muscle spasms.

Some mobility impairments also affect speech and can cause delays, so instead children can learn to communicate through gestures, expressions or vocalisation. You could also use equipment or techniques to help – these are called augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) – such as sign language, word boards, symbols or electronic voice output communication aids (VOCAs).

To help develop social skills it is really important to communicate with your child. Making eye contact and physical contact (such as holding your child’s hand or touching their face) can help your child know when you are talking to them. When doing so, make sure they can see your face by getting into a visible position, so they can watch your lip movements and facial expressions.


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While play time needs to be accessible for children with mobility impairments, this doesn’t mean you need to invest in specially adapted toys and games. Many off-the-shelf toys work well and some can be adapted to make them easier for your child to enjoy.

For some great game ideas to suit your child’s level of mobility, take a look at Scope’s game guide.


Here are some tips on choosing suitable toys for your child:Good-Toy-Guide_135_Mega-Bloks-Big-Building-Bag_Mega-Bloks

  • Construction toys help to develop hand-eye coordination and strengthen small hand muscles, as well as encouraging logical thinking and creativity. If your child has poor motor control, look for construction toys that are fairly secure so they are not easily knocked over (as this can cause frustration) – for example, Mega Bloks rather than wooden building blocks.
  • Textured toys that are fun to feel and squish, such as play-doh, are good for sensory stimulation as well as developing fine motor skills.
  • Toys that provide full-body stability, such as ride-ons or swings, are great fun for children.
  • Toys need to be easy to hold and operate.
  • For children who are in a wheelchair, look for toys that can fit on a wheelchair tray and play sets that are wheelchair accessible (e.g. larger openings on play houses).
  • Toys that give a big reward, such as light, sound or movement are popular.

Depending on their level of mobility and with some support, children can also take part in active play such as swimming or wheelchair basketball.

“Basketball, for me, is a freedom.” Katherine


Stabilising toys

To make play time easier for your child, it can be useful to steady play materials by attaching them to a surface. Here are some suggestions to help you:

  • Cut out a carpet tile to fit the child’s tray; Velcroed toys can then be easily attached and removed
  • Use a C-clamp to attach a puzzle or playhouse to a table or wheelchair tray
  • Put one side of a Velcro strip on the floor of a playhouse as a carpet and the other side on the bottom of plastic people and furniture
  • Screw suction cups to the bottom of toys or look for toys that already have these
  • Place self-adhesive Velcro on each square of a board game and on the bottom of the play pieces
  • Use anti-skid rug material under toys to prevent sliding
  • Blu-Tack also works well to hold down paper for drawing, painting, etc.
  • Look for toys that snap or stick together (such as bristle blocks)
  • Choose toys with a wide, short, flat base for better stability


As with all children, those with mobility impairment will like different toys and develop at their own pace. Appreciate your child for who they are and focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.



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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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