When is a child ready to drive a powered wheelchair?

When is a child ready to drive a powered wheelchair?

The issue of when your child might be ready to try out a powered wheelchair needs to be carefully discussed with everyone involved with your child, including family, therapists and teachers.

There is no way to definitely tell whether a child has the skills to operate a powered wheelchair safely unless the child actually tries out the wheelchair. But, when all of the aspects listed here have been considered by your child's therapist/s, it is more likely that your child will have the necessary skills to move on their own in a power wheelchair with practice and training in a safe environment.

It is important that your child receives a full formal seating and wheelchair assessment to ensure that they receive the most suitable chair to meet their needs. As with an adult, the child’s health and level of ability must be considered before obtaining a powered chair.

In order to be safe in a powered chair, your child will need to be able to:

  • understand the meaning of 'stop' and 'go'
  • follow simple instructions and respond to commands such as 'slow down' or 'let's go faster'
  • pay attention to tasks without losing concentration
  • react in a timely manner
  • plan what they want to do.

Your child will also require:

  • arm and hand control or competence in switch use
  • visual skills and adequate hearing
  • motivation, attentiveness and persistence
  • cause and effect association (e.g. knowing that pushing joystick engages wheelchair in motion).

Wheelchair skills can only be learnt through your child's trial and error. When learning, your child should always be asked whether they want to continue in the wheelchair so that they have a sense of control and to ensure that their wheelchair experiences are positive.

Many children, when they first get a powered wheelchair test out the limits and may drive into people or objects and drive too fast. Do not worry - this is usually just a phase as they adapt to their new freedom of mobility and independence.

Advice last checked: 23 January 2018 Next check due: 23 January 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement

References

  1. Furumasu, J., Guertte, P. and Tefft, D. 1996  The development of a powered wheelchair mobility program for young children
    IOS Press Technology and Disability   Vol.5(1)   p41-48
  2. Novita children's services 2007  Powered mobility: a guide for families
    View reference   Last visited:  12/12/2013
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