LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Parker Taylor can now drive her new, red motorized toy car outside with her older brother and sister. And it doesn't look like she will be slowing down any time soon.
"She took off, she was so excited," said Shelley Taylor, Parker's mother. "We can take it to the park and play outside and she can chase after her siblings."
The 19-month-old was diagnosed with Periventricular leukomalacia about seven months ago, a type of brain injury that affects infants.
"We noticed she was a little delayed in her gross motor skills," said Taylor.
The damaged brain tissue can affect the nerve cells that control motor movements or cause visual impairment, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. As a baby grows, the damaged nerve cells cause the muscles to become spastic, or tight, and resistant to movement.
Thanks to GoBabyGo!, Parker and four other Pine Belt children can now move around, as they please, behind the wheel.
Go Baby Go! is a non-profit research program that started at the University of Delaware in 2012. It offers a fun, temporary wheelchair alternative for children who aren't able to walk or need assistance.
"There is no commercially available motorized wheelchair for children two years old or younger," said Sam Logan, an assistant professor at Oregon State University. "By modifying these off the shelf ride on cars, for about $200, we can fill that gap with the mobility technology."
Logan travels around the country to help therapists and other organizations modify cars. While the models are the same as what is sold at stores, small changes are made to make the cars easier and safer for children with a wide-range of conditions.
GoBabyGO! made it's way to Laurel through the help of Nu Motion, a wheelchair and mobility equipment company, and Optimal Performance Physical Therapy, where therapists spent the day adding buttons to the steering wheels for activation, instead of foot pedals, and building support around the seats for the toddlers.
"That improves their ability to socialize with their peers and interact with them," said Karen Roy with Nu Motion. "You learn differently when your mobile versus being stuck in one spot."
Gabriel Fontaine was excited to see his new, blue car. Gabriel's mom, Aprile, says he has a rare and undiagnosed genetic disorder that impacts his vision and causes him to get scared easily with movement.
"I think it's amazing what they are doing, they are helping so many people they don't realize," said Fontaine. "There are so many disabled children that just want to play like other kids and this is giving them the chance."
"For a lot of these kids, this is the first time they are actually controlling their own moving space," Logan said. "You really see some barriers being broken. Between that independence that they are now showing their parents they can do and parents are also realizing they can do that as well through this mobility."
The changes are simple, but can have a big impact. Experts say it's important to enable and encourage independent movement among children with special needs at a young age.
There are 75 chapters of GoBabyGo! across the country. For more information on the program, click here.