Eleanor Schumacher has made significant progress in
physical therapy related to her cerebral palsy diagnosis,
thanks to her use of a modified Hot Wheels car that helps
promote certain types of movement.
Photo by Laurie Arendt
Schumacher might not quite be ready to walk yet, but thanks to a
toy car, some PVC pipe and some ingenious re-jiggering, the
19-month-old girl is learning some very important concepts at
Ozaukee Therapy Services in Mequon.
suspected that something wasn’t right when she wasn’t really hitting
her developmental milestones,” said her mother, Connie Schumacher.
“She was really having some difficulties with her gross motor skills
– she couldn’t really sit up by herself.”
about a year old when she received her cerebral palsy diagnosis. At
the time, her mobility was limited to “army crawling,” where she
pulled herself along with her arms and let her legs drag behind her.
At a recent
therapy session with Ozaukee Therapy physical therapist Stephanie
Annen, Eleanor read a book, played with assorted toys and scooped
beans in a large tray. And at the very end? She climbed in the Hot
Wheels car and drove it around the room.
“What the car
does is really promote certain kinds of movement,” said Annen. “When
Eleanor first started coming for therapy, she really wasn’t mobile.
She really had to rely on her mom or dad to move her from place to
place – she wasn’t experiencing the concept of how to get from Point
A to Point B on her own. The car enables her to do that.”
Ozaukee Therapy Hot Wheels car started out like those found in
virtually any neighborhood with children, it has undergone some
modifications, thanks to Annen’s husband and brother.
made some important changes,” she said. “I wanted the kids to be
able to drive the car just by pushing a button, though they can
still use the pedal. They also incorporated some additional safety
The toy, which
was donated by Annen’s boss, now has PVC rails around the sides and
can also accommodate a car seat to help support those kids who
aren’t able to sit on their own.
“Its ability to
go in reverse has been removed, too,” said Annen.
Her idea to
incorporate a toy car is based on a program at the University of
Delaware called “Go Baby Go.” Started in 2006, the program initially
focused on providing specially designed robots for children to
propel using joysticks. The program quickly evolved into specially
designed cars for children with disabilities.
participating in the program at the University of Delaware, as well
as other similar programs throughout the country, are at increased
risk for mobility-related developmental delays. These are not just
physical, but can also impact a child’s cognitive, language and
Delaware researchers were able to quantify improvements in these
developmental areas – along with physical development – among the
children participating in the program. Children also gained better
mastery of their own physical abilities, and became less dependent
on the devices for movement.
That has been
the case for Eleanor.
“It’s been a
challenge to find activities that she can do on her own,” said her
mom. “We really couldn’t take her to the park, for example, because
she couldn’t do the other things children her age could do. This has
given her a little independence; she is actually the person driving
Annen, Eleanor has diplegic cerebral palsy, which primarily affects
her legs. Her preferred method of sitting is in a “w” shape, and her
leg muscles are stiff and tight. Her therapy program, along with
help from Mom and Dad at home, is helping strengthen her legs and
introduce her to new ways of holding and moving her body. With a
little more therapy, Annen expects Eleanor to walk.
“At some point,
Eleanor could also eventually drive the car using the foot pedal,
instead of the button on the steering wheel,” said Annen. “She’s not
quite there yet, but it’s entirely possible. That motion and using
her legs will also help her progress to walking.”
Annen said that
the car is suitable for children with a number of challenges, from
cerebral palsy to Down’s syndrome and other forms of ataxia.
“Really, it is a
just a good tool for children with neuromuscular disorders,” she
said. “It provides them with an experience that they can’t easily
Annen would like
to develop the program further to provide cars for families to take
home as part of their therapy. She welcomes donations of cars that
local families have outgrown and/or donations to purchase cars for
the families she works with.
process is fairly inexpensive and not difficult to do, now that
we’ve figured it out,” she said. “It costs about $20 a car for the
interested in donating their unwanted cars or supporting the program
can reach Annen at 241-8030.