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A wheelchair skills camp for children with SCI

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By: Leanne Ramer and Bonita Sawatzky

A wheelchair skills camp for children with SCI

Mobility is an issue for most people with SCI, but one group of people that deserve special consideration is children with SCI who use wheelchairs. Depending on their age at the time of their injury, children and adolescents may need special support to gain confidence using a wheelchair. Currently no teaching is provided to children who get wheelchairs. ICORD researcher Bonnie Sawatzky recently investigated the effectiveness of a wheelchair skills training program for children, held in Vancouver.

Children from 7 to 19 years old with SCI participated in this pilot study. Participants performed a skills test in their manual wheelchair and answered questions about their normal activity levels. The children participated in a two-day wheelchair skills training camp, held on consecutive weekends, one week apart. In total, participants received 9 hours of wheelchair skills training. After the camp, the wheelchair skills test and the questionnaire were repeated. An additional questionnaire was administered 4 months later.

What was the most important finding?

Children with SCI performed better on the wheelchair skills test after the training camp. In addition, the responses to the questionnaire at 4 months after the camp suggested that the children experienced improvements in their independence and ability to perform tasks of daily living in the community.

What are some things we need to consider?

In this study, children with SCI demonstrated improvement in wheelchair skills under controlled testing conditions. More research is required to determine whether this improvement will translate into improved mobility in the community, and increased ability to participate in activities (e.g., in school).

What does this mean for people with SCI?

This study suggests that investing time in wheelchair skills training pays off. While this is probably true for everyone, few researchers have investigated the best way to accomplish wheelchair skills training in children with SCI. This study indicates that a short, intensive wheelchair skills camp can help children with SCI use their manual chair, which is likely to translate into increased participation in school, sports, and other activities. Thus we should encourage some formal training for children who use wheelchairs.