Sandboxes, bike rides, water balloons, swing sets, swimming pools and running back and forth between my house, my cousin’s house and my best friend’s house through the yards are all very vivid memories when I think about my childhood summers. I played outside for hours, completely barefoot and dirty by the time dusk set in.
As a parent, these are the types of memories I want my kids to have when they think of summertime, but when you have a child with a physical disability, every single activity I listed above poses great challenge. Outside play for Tough Guy is fun, but sometimes a lot of work for both he and me (and Dan).
Grass, stairs, swing sets and ladders all scream- inaccessible!
We search for wheelchair friendly parks, and we are very blessed to live in an area where there are 3 playgrounds that he can wheel up and access from his chair. (The real problem for me with getting to these parks is planning around Tinker Bell’s naps).
There are several things that we’ve found to be helpful this summer with outside play.
- Radio Flyer Cyclone Ride on Toy
- Fisher Price Power Wheels Wild Thing & Hand Operated Power Wheels
- knee pads
- puddle jumper swim vest
- accessible hard space
- a community of help
The Easter Bunny brought Tough Guy the Radio Flyer Cyclone. He had a similar toy he had at school, and his therapist said he loved it and always rocked it out. This toy is nice because it gives a good physical workout, (it’s around $45) and most kids (with arm use) can easily use it. We’ve added foot support and we wrap his legs so they don’t get in the way, but otherwise, little accommodations need to be made to this toy. It is completely hand propelled,is a great exercise and fun toy! Tough Guy totally dominates in the cyclone and it’s fun because he would easily out race the typical moving kids in this toy. What we really need with this toy, is another one so he can have races with Turbo Man and friends.
Cyclone races are serious business.
The Fisher Price Wild Thing is something I saw another child with Spina Bifida using to get across his large grassy yard. I asked his mom about it and she said it was great because it went over rough terrain (which is always such an obstacle for a wheelchair). So when it came to birthday time, we had to get this for Tough Guy because anything that can help Tough Guy get across the grass and have an easier time playing outside is well worth the money. (We found this for about $220 on Amazon which was the best price I could find.) Tough Guy does have a hand operated four wheel power cart, (his Polaris) which is an awesome toy we received through a local toy adaptive organization. It seats Tough Guy and a friend and he can completely operate it by hand. It goes over grass and gets pretty fast, but right now, Tough Guy can’t get into it independently. We have to lift him into it. One of my goals for the summer is for Tough Guy to be more independent, including being able to go to his best buddy’s (our neighbors three yards over) by himself. The Wild Thing is great because it is low to the ground and he can climb into it himself. The downfall, is that he currently needs a lot of encouragement to use it. He totally CAN do it, but there is a learning curve to maneuvering it. He just needs to practice- and perhaps his largest obstacle in this situation is his own self motivation.
The Polaris- which is great for driving friends and little sister around!
The Wild Thing
When you are a floor scooter- any rough flooring can really give your legs a beating. In the past year or so, Tough Guy has earned some pretty good leg scars from slide burns and general scratches from playing outside. Without feeling in his legs, we have to be cautious of when he is moving about because his legs can get beat up very easily without him realizing this. Thankfully, he’s very proud of his scars, but as his momma, I’d like to preserve his nice skin as long as I can! Tough Guy and Tootsie Pop were recently visiting my parents and playing around on their wood deck. He scooted around as he helped with the garden and yard activities. My dad found an old pair of knee pads (which were actually volleyball pads) and slid them around his knees. (They cover a good portion of his leg.) These totally helped prevent scratches and splinters. Definitely a win for safety in outside play! (My dad always comes up with ingenious ideas like this. Thanks dad!)
Tough Guy helped Grandpa make a wood covering for his train station.
We’ve had Puddle Jumper swim vests since Turbo was a toddler and we love them. They are great because they aren’t so bulky that they get in the kids way of swimming, but they keep the kids’ heads afloat and give them added confidence in the pool. (of course we still keep close watch and stay near, but the kids are still able to move their arms and legs freely while they learn how to swim). Tough Guy’s lower body is very buoyant in water. His bum and legs tend to float right up, leaving his head tip forward. We tried a puddle jumper with Tough Guy when he was about 3, however it over corrected and his face still tipped toward the water. When he was four we started swim lessons with him so that he could learn how to swim. The teachers were great with him and he did start to learn how to propel! So then we revisited the Puddle Jumper and he now knew how to control his body in water better, the vest held him afloat without dipping his head forward. Now that he’s stronger and more aware, the Puddle Jumper works for him just like it is intended to. This is awesome, because he can independently swim with the Puddle Jumper. Don’t get me wrong, we are always near him (and Tootsie Pop in her Puddle Jumper), but with the vest, they both enjoy more independence in the water!
Another very important part of outside play is accessible, hard floored space. I won’t go in to details in this post about the building of our patio, but one thing we have is a concrete patio for outside play. I know this is not an option for everyone, but if you can find safe and accessible hard surfaces for your child’s play space it will really help with his/her mobility. Decks work well for Tough Guy’s play also!
Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Establish a community of people you know and trust and accept their help when they offer. This has taken me some time to adjust to. I never want it to appear I can’t “handle” everything, so I try to do it all myself. The truth is, I can handle it, but that doesn’t mean that I should all the time. Not only is it a nice break for me, but it is very important that Tough Guy also learn to receive help from others. He learns how to communicate his needs to someone other than his parents, and that is something he will need to know throughout life.
There have been times when I really dread outside play and the challenges it brings for Tough Guy. I hate to see him loose his confidence because of the obstacles the space brings. These are just a few things we’ve found to help bring out more opportunities outside for Tough Guy and I am sure there are so many more. I’d love to hear if you have any great ones to share!