By the age of three, Michael was using the reversible walker very efficiently. We worked on walking every day and I knew that one day Michael would walk independently.
Imagine my surprise when I picked him up at his PPI (Pre-Primary Impaired) class one day and found him wheeling in the smallest wheelchair I had ever seen! I was shocked, dismayed, and heart-broken all at the same time. I had been asked before what I had thought about a wheelchair, but I truly did not see one in Michael’s future. He was walking so well with the walker, why would we take a step back and use a wheelchair? I could not breath.
What I didn’t know was that therapists had been practicing with Michael how to use a wheelchair and he was learning to maneuver himself. I am the first to admit that was another tear jerking, heart-felt, sobbing moment when I went home. No one had mentally prepared me for that image or truthfully explained to me that Michael would need a wheelchair. They tried hard to put a positive spin on it and explained how much independence Michael was gaining. Still, it really didn’t matter at that moment; I was really hurt and frustrated at the same time. I felt like therapists had given up on Michael walking and they were taking the easy way out.
That was our introduction to the life of a wheelchair user. Michael got his very own wheelchair at the age of three. Insurance was so much fun to deal with. Their policy? Each person is allowed ONE wheelchair in their lifetime! Yeah right! So everytime we needed a new wheelchair, I went through hoops and piles of paper work to get it approved. For Michael, a wheelchair lasted about three years, until he stopped growing so quickly and we could stretch it four years.
It’s important that your child have a proper fitting wheelchair. Sores can develop on the body and they can even obtain injuries if the wheelchair doesn’t fit the child. We did order a wheelchair when Michael was about six and we visited our specialist at the University of Michigan Hospital. He wasn’t happy with our wheelchair. I found out later he called the company and they came to our home and properly fitted him. The technician commented they had never had a doctor so angry before. My lesson - take your new wheelchair to your next doctor’s appointment, therapist appointment, etc. and let them analyse the fit. Never take the word of one individual. This is your child’s health and you are their advocate. Never forget your child is your number one priority – do not feel intimated by the “experts”.
What You Should Know When Ordering a Wheelchair
What type of vehicle do you have? If you have a car and the wheelchair needs to fit in the trunk, try to order a chair that will fold. Ask for the dimensions of the proposed wheelchair and take measurements. Be sure you understand how it comes apart. I’ve had many sales people try to sell me something that simply wasn’t practical for our family. Ask to see a similar wheelchair before ordering. Are the wheels easy to remove? Are the handles removable?
Have your wheelchair equipped with straps to ride the bus. Special straps need to be placed on the wheelchair for safety. If the wheelchair isn’t equipped, the busdriver will not take your child for safety reasons. We’ve had loaner chairs when Michael’s surgeries required rentals, and found the wheelchair was not equipped to ride a bus.
How much time will your child spend in the chair? A tray may be handy so they may eat, draw, etc. from the chair. At a young age, children do not line up with a regular size table and a tray is a great solution.
Have fun with it! They’ve got funky colors, wheels that light up, etc. Let your child be involved if possible and pick what they like!
Many accessories may not be covered by insurance but your salesperson will let you know. If your employer has flex benefits, you may be able to use some of those funds towards these expenses.