The aim of this study was to assess the effect of early provision (< or = 8 years) of a powered wheelchair (PWC) in children with tetraplegia. Twenty-nine children (15 males, 14 females; mean age 6 years 3 months, age range 3 to 8 years) with spastic or dystonic tetraplegia were studied. All participants had severe motor impairment. Treatment outcomes were investigated in several dimensions of disablement: Impairment, Functional Limitation/Activity, Disability/Participation. It was found that the level of independence improved significantly after PWC provision, while motor impairment, IQ, and quality of life did not. The majority of children (21 of 27) reached a level of driving competence which allowed them to move around with or without minimal (i.e. verbal) adult support. Achievement of this competence was not statistically related to IQ or motor impairment but correlated to the time spent in the PWC. The majority of parents (21 of 25) were not in favour of the PWC when the study started but after PWC provision, 23 of 25 parents expressed positive feelings about it. Reactions of the majority of children (23 of 25) were positive from the beginning of the study and did not change over time. The authors concluded that PWCs can aid independence and socialization and the majority of children can achieve a good-enough driving competence, even those with severe learning disability or motor deficit. PWCs should not be viewed as a last resort but as a means of providing efficient self-locomotion in children with a severe motor deficit.
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