Supporting a Child with Mobility Impairment: Tips for Parents
Mobility impairment affects around six per cent of children in the UK. It can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy, which affects muscle control and movement. If your child has a mobility impairment, you may be wondering how best to support their learning, development and independence.
In this article, we’ll share some tips on how you can help your child thrive.
What is Mobility Impairment?
Mobility impairment refers to difficulties with movement or physical function. While some children with mobility impairments use wheelchairs, not all do. 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 can be caused by injury to the brain before, during, or after birth.
Supporting Your Child’s Learning, Development and Independence
Physical difficulties can cause challenges with everyday activities such as eating, drinking and sleeping. Physiotherapists and speech and language therapists can provide advice on positioning your child for meals. You can also use aids such as non-slip mats and adapted cutlery. For sleeping, muscle spasms can be managed with medication or by changing positions.
Some mobility impairments affect speech, causing delays in communication. To help your child communicate, consider using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools such as sign language, word boards, symbols or electronic voice output communication aids (VOCAs). Your child can also learn to communicate through gestures, expressions or vocalisation.
To develop social skills, it is important to communicate with your child. Making eye contact and physical contact can help your child understand when you are talking to them. Ensure your child can see your face by getting into a visible position. This will enable them to watch your lip movements and facial expressions.
Choosing Toys and Games
It is important to make play time accessible for children with mobility impairments. However, this does not always mean investing in specially adapted toys and games. Many off-the-shelf toys can 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 for choosing suitable toys:
- Construction Toys: They can help to develop hand-eye coordination and strengthen small hand muscles while encouraging logical thinking and creativity. If your child has poor motor control, look for construction toys that are stable and difficult to knock over.
- Textured Toys: Toys that are fun to feel and squish, such as play-doh, are good for sensory stimulation and developing fine motor skills.
- Easy-to-Hold Toys: Choose toys that are easy to hold and operate.
- Wheelchair-Friendly Toys: For children who use a wheelchair, look for toys that can fit on a wheelchair tray and play sets that are wheelchair accessible.
- Rewarding Toys: Toys that provide a big reward, such as light, sound or movement, are popular.
- Active Play: Depending on their level of mobility, children can take part in active play such as swimming or wheelchair basketball.
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.