<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=837181686386229&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Permobil Blog / August 11, 2023

Navigating school with a wheelchair: a parent's perspective

Navigating school in a wheelchair: a parent's perspective

As the school year approaches, some parents and children are preparing for the challenges of navigating school with a wheelchair. In a recent episode of Wheelchair Nerds, we were fortunate to have Tiffany Wood and her daughter Sophia, along with Sophia's physical therapist, Erin Baker from Nemours Children's Hospital in Florida, join us for a discussion on this topic.

Below is an portion of that interview where Angie, Erin, and Tiffany discuss the transition from a stroller to a manual wheelchair and how Tiffany and her husband decided on where Sophia went to kindergarten through third grade.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Angie Kiger
Erin, is school age, for example kids who are starting kindergarten or preschool, when you start talking about moving from a stroller to a wheelchair? Do you plant those seeds early?

Erin Baker
It is often very hard for families to accept and wrap their head around my child needs a wheelchair right away. We’re often seeing them when they are still very small, so a stroller initially is a great way to start, but I do like to have the conversation with families early.

By two and three years old, we start to ask if they are looking at enrolling their child into early school or early intervention services. And if so, then we should start looking at and talking about more of a traditional wheelchair for mobility. I try and put it as an age-appropriate mobility device. We want these children to be sitting at the same level as their peers, be able to be at the same tables as their peers, and you can't do that from a stroller.

In a stroller the child is typically up higher and unable to interact with their peers in the same way. By helping to encourage and have families understand that at school age, even those early school years, having them down lower and in a mobility device where they could potentially move themselves and interact with their classmates is really huge, not just for mobility, but for social interaction and that development.

Yes. Tiffany, any thoughts on that? Because I'm sure as a parent this change from a stroller to a wheelchair can be a struggle wrap your head around. How was that experience for you and your husband to process and make the decision? Was it difficult or was it something you were thinking yes, this is something we need to we need to explore.

Tiffany Wood
In our case, we really waited too long to get her a manual wheelchair. In the beginning everything was new for us as she was our first child. We were trying to do everything right and also held out hope for so long that she may be able to walk and use a walker. There were a lot of other people encouraging that thought as well. We were anti-wheelchair for a while, and thought a wheelchair would make her not want to try to practice walking or use the walker.

Looking back, I really see that we should have given her that experience to learn her environment, experience her world, and get the independence and spatial awareness. I wish we would have introduced a mobility device sooner. Ultimately, we did get her a wheelchair when Sophia was around 7 years old. She was small, so she did still fit in the stroller. By that time we were ready and okay with her having a manual wheelchair. We could see Sophia needed to be able to have this independence and be off the floor, up at the level where the rest of her peers were at. It wasn’t appropriate for her to be at a friend’s house and she's still crawling. Sophia outgrew that and was ready to more independence.

Tiffany, you mentioned that that Sophia was in a preschool based program as you were deciding where she was going to go to kindergarten. What did that process look like for your family as you were trying to decide what is the best school for Sophia?

We looked into and went to visit the local public school to see what they would be able to offer Sophia with her disability. For us and where we lived at the time,that particular school was not very open or welcoming about the idea of Sophia attending and that put us off immediately. They wanted to send her to another school that was about a 45 minute bus ride in the county. There was no sense of trying to include Sophia in her own neighborhood school. They looked at the paper, never met her in person and decided this is going to be too much. We went on to a private school for children with specifically motor disabilities such as CP. We felt Sophia would be safe there and it was primarily focused on physical development.

The academics were not that strong, but at that age we were still holding out hope that if she goes there and they really focus on functionality that we could give her the tools that she needs to be independent. Our thought was she can always catch up on academics later. Sophia attended the private school for kindergarten through third grade. After third grade we transferred her to public school.


Click here to hear the full interview about Sophia's school journey, tracing her path from pre-K all the way to her starting high school this fall. To check out the entire Wheelchair Nerds podcast library, click here

For more resources on going back to school check out Mobility Management's article "CRT in the Classroom." Interested in on-time mobility? Check out the Permobil blog series on early childhood development and on-time mobility. 

Advocate for more

Share Button

Categories: Pediatrics, Manual, Clinician

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts