Tag Archives: gait trainer

The Cardboard Fairy Strikes Again

by Sue Lowenstein, MSPT, Physical Therapist 

Well, “The Cardboard Fairy” has done it again! She helped give another child at Easterseals a set of wings by putting her engineering skills and ingenuity to use!  This time, the Cardboard Fairy tackled the issue of a walker that needed some additional support.  

Let me back up a little for those of you that have not read our previous blogs (here, here and here) about the  “Cardboard Fairy.” Her real name is Dorothy Hess. Dorothy is a retired market researcher who volunteers for Easterseals in a very unique way. She uses heavy duty cardboard (sometimes referred to as “tri-wall”), along with various straps, glue, PVC pipe, clips, and whatever other materials might be necessary to create custom-made adaptive equipment.  

Now, let me introduce you to my student, Kayla. She is a sweet and social 4 year old girl who wears purple glasses and has a head full of curls and a smile that can light up a room. Kayla has been attending our approved private pre-school program in Levittown since September of 2020. When Kayla first started preschool, she needed a full wrap-around chest support, along with the sturdiness and width of a gait trainer, to walk. However, as time passed, she approached the point where she was outgrowing this gait trainer. While a larger sized gait trainer could have been ordered for Kayla, it would have been significantly larger and cumbersome. These gait trainers do not fold, which would make it very difficult for her parents to transport it from place to place.  

As her physical therapist, I was eager to help Kayla transition to a more traditional style and smaller walker (and one that is foldable!). However, Kayla was still reliant on the full back support that the gait trainer provided her. Many attempts to have Kayla walk in a traditional reverse walker without a back support were unsuccessful. Even though Kayla was strong and balanced enough to walk with this type of walker, she craved the back support that the Rifton gait trainer afforded her. But there were no reverse walkers available on the market that  came with larger back supports like the one that Kayla needed. 

So I tried my best to create a custom back support. I used pool noodles (PT’s and OT’s love these things), along with some extra cardboard, tape, and cable ties to try to create a custom back support that would be mounted a traditional reverse walker. However, it did not take long for the cardboard to bend and the tape to fall, resulting in an epic fail. 

I decided that this was a job for the Cardboard Fairy! With permission from Kayla’s family, and adhering to Easterseals’  COVID protocols, we were able to bring Dorothy in to sneak a peek at Kayla and my sad attempt at building a back support. Dorothy took some measurements, and left our school with the walker in her hand.  Just a few short days later, what to my wondering eyes appears on my phone but a video of a lightweight but sturdy back support designed to fit perfectly onto the reverse walker.  It is made out of the tri-wall I mentioned above.  It snaps easily into place onto the walker, and there are two additional straps to help it remain stable and in place for Kayla when walking. It can also easily be removed to allow the walker to be folded and transported by her caregivers. And to top it all off, Dorothy painted it purple to match the color of the walker and Kayla’s glasses!!! 

Kayla’s parents and Dorothy and I are thrilled to report that Kayla took to this back support and the walker very quickly, and she is now WALKING INDEPENDENTLY all around her home and in the hallways of her preschool. The Cardboard Fairy did it again…she gave another child a set of wings (this time in the form of a purple back support) so she could take off!!! Well done, Dorothy. Kayla…you keep on walking, girl!!!!  

Kayla using her adapted walker!

Go Baby Go!

by Susan Lowenstein

At the Bucks County Division, we have fun rolling, walking, running and climbing…our children have many ways they move around to explore their environment. But thanks to funding through our own assistive technology department, along with an enthusiastic team of employees and volunteers, we have also added “driving” to our list of modes of mobility. Yes, you read that correctly. Driving!

Following the lead of an engineer named Cole Galloway at University of Delaware who started the “Go Baby Go” program, we now have several adapted electric cars available at our Bucks County facility to trial with children who do yet have an independent way of moving around on their own. These cars were purchased directly through Toys ‘R Us and are just what you probably pictured in your head – those crazy fun electric cars you might see young children driving on a warm spring day in your own neighborhood.

However, these cars were adapted by a team of volunteers under the direction of Easter Seals’ very own assistive technologist, Laurie McGowan, so that a child with a disability can access specially mounted switches to make the car move. Instead of having to press a pedal with a foot to propel the car forward, our students only have to reach forward and press a large switch (the “go” switch) which is mounted directly in front of them on the steering wheel. In addition to the “go” switch, some of the cars have also been adapted with additional seating support systems, so that a child who is unable to sit up independently can be supported in an upright position and still drive! One of the cars has even been equipped with a horn, which is a switch mounted on the side door and can easily be accessed by a child who is driving the car. So not only can our children drive, but they can “honk” at oncoming pedestrian traffic!

One student who is frequently seen driving down our hallways in our adapted “Barbie” car is Julianna. Julianna can take steps in her adapted gait trainer (which she does on a regular basis), but can cover a lot more ground in her car. We use large pieces of foam around her trunk to help her sit in an upright position. Additional foam is also used to help support her left arm so she can reach the “go”switch with ease. With just the touch of one of her left fingers on the big red “go” switch mounted to the steering wheel, she speeds down the hallway easily, searching for some of her favorite friends and staff at school!

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Another student who has recently tested out her driving skills at Easter Seals is Madison, a young girl who just happens to be a classmate of Julianna’s. Madison just recently starting taking steps in a gait trainer at school, but like Julianna, is not quite strong enough (yet!) to walk on her own. It did not take Madison long to figure out how to push the “go” switch with one hand, and honk the horn with the other! Watch out, friends, because here she comes.

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Much research is published regarding independent mobility and its link to cognitive and social benefits for children. The girls’ smiles light up the school when they can move from classroom to classroom, without tiring, and say “Hi!” to many of the their other friends and staff in other classrooms! Keep on driving, girls. And know that you were warned, pedestrians, if you hear a honk coming from behind you in the hallways, you might need to move over and make room for our newest drivers!