Developmentally disabled children explore world in cars

The event at Oh Wow! helped children with mobility constraints explore all there is to see at the science center.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Imagine being under the age of 6 but being behind other kids your own age.

There was no school on Monday, but a program was held at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology that helped put those children on an even playing field.

Joshua Kurth is just 6-years old, but driving is very important to him. He is paralyzed from the waist down and has Spina Bifida, a birth defect in which his spinal cord failed to develop properly.

The cars in the science center’s Go Baby Go program give him mobility. The free event was held Monday and helped developmentally disabled children explore the science center by putting them behind the wheel of specially-modified vehicles.

There are no foot pedals; children can operate them with their hands. The controls are put in places which work best for them, so they can explore and play.

“Oh he’s in heaven,” said Kurth’s mother, Courtney Kurth, on Monday. “He’s always loved the cars like this, but it has been a challenge since they have a foot pedal and he’s paralyzed from the waist down. So when he found out about this program, he was excited and said he wanted to come and race.”

Some kids can’t walk or crawl, but they find out with these cars, they are unstoppable.

She-Yu is 4 and has cerebral palsy, a movement and muscle tone disorder. Her father, Dan Debon, said the vehicles helped her act like a normal kid.

“The big smile that she gets on her face, the ability to maneuver like other kids, it’s satisfying to see that she’s able to do that,” he said.

Go Baby Go is a way to get the children out of their wheelchairs or strollers and give them some moments of feeling free and able to explore their world.

“So what this does is it gets kids moving at an early age,” said Bev Lankitus, a Youngstown area physical therapist. “They think, ‘Oh wow! I can move,’ which leads to huge cognitive gains.”

And even the look on the parents’ faces is priceless. Oh Wow! set up a special place to test this program on Monday and found out there’s no stopping it.

“The bottom line is, when you see the kids’ faces and they’re in that vehicle, and they’re driving themselves when they never knew they could move at all, it’s incredible,” said Oh Wow! Executive Director Suzanne Barbati. “I have goosebumps. For me, that’s a success and tells me it’ll be a successful program.”

That success showed, as the center received more than double the expected guests during its first run of the program. Oh Wow! is going to try and get funding to repeat the program at least four times per year.

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