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Paediatric Occupational Therapy, Early Powered Mobility, and the NDIS

22 March 2023 | General

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Paediatric occupational therapy plays a vital role in improving the quality of life of children with disabilities. One area of focus in occupational therapy for kids is powered mobility, which allows children with mobility impairments to explore their environment and participate in activities they would otherwise not be able to do. Early powered mobility devices can benefit children with physical disabilities and are often funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Australia.

What is Early Powered Mobility Equipment?

Early powered mobility equipment refers to devices that provide children with disabilities the ability to move independently or with assistance. These devices are designed to help children with mobility impairments explore their environment and interact with their surroundings. Early powered mobility devices come in various shapes and sizes.

Self-initiated mobility is crucial to a child’s development, and it includes exploration through the use of non-powered and powered technology. Powered technology is usually considered when other means of movement have not been successful. Children need self-initiated exploration to learn and develop in various areas. Crawling and self-initiated mobility allows children to learn about the environment and social relationships and build self-awareness. If children cannot move independently, many aspects of development are delayed. Early access to self-initiated mobility could change the growth and trajectory of developmental milestones for young children with mobility impairments.

A powered mobility device can provide more than locomotion for children with multiple, complex disabilities. A recent study explored the assessment and intervention process for powered mobility experiences and found that it enhances development in these children. Through tool-use learning, children can develop a sense of self, explore cause/effect, and become aware of relationships between themselves, others, and their environment. This can change how they perceive themselves and approach new tools with curiosity and exploratory behaviour. Individualised power mobility assessment and intervention can support the growth of environmental awareness and communication skills in children with multiple, complex disabilities.

What are some popular items of equipment that an Occupational Therapist can prescribe?

Powered mobility devices help young children with physical disabilities move independently, explore their environment, and interact with others. This improves their cognitive skills, confidence, communication, social skills, and ability to handle objects. It also reduces the need for caregiver assistance with mobility and self-care. These devices provide a foundation for typical development experiences that these children would not have otherwise.

Paediatric occupational therapists work closely with families and children to determine the most appropriate powered mobility equipment based on the child’s individual needs. Some popular items of equipment that an occupational therapist can prescribe include:

Power wheelchairs:

Power wheelchairs are a common form of early powered mobility equipment. They are designed for children who cannot walk or have difficulty walking. Power wheelchairs allow children to move around their environment independently.


Walkers provide support and stability for children who can stand but require walking assistance. Walkers can come in many styles, such as traditional frame walkers, posterior walkers, or gait trainers.

How does Occupational Therapy assist kids with powered mobility?

Powered mobility devices can be used by young children with physical disabilities to move independently, explore their environment, and interact with others. Controllers, such as joysticks and switches, cater to children with various physical abilities. Modifications to indoor and outdoor environments may be required to use the devices successfully. A network of people committed to helping the child master their device is also needed. The level of independence achieved varies according to factors such as motivation, intellectual ability, physical environment, and support available.

Specific goals for children with intellectual disabilities can be discussed with the child’s therapy team. The decision to use powered mobility should consider the needs, expectations, and preferences of the child and family, as well as the cost, time, and resources required.

Paediatric occupational therapy focuses on improving a child’s ability to participate in activities of daily living. Occupational therapists work with children and their families to identify the child’s strengths and limitations and develop a plan to improve their functional abilities. For children with mobility impairments, occupational therapists can assist by:

Conducting assessments:

Occupational therapists conduct assessments to determine the child’s current level of functioning and identify any areas that require intervention.

Developing individualised treatment plans:

Based on the assessment results, occupational therapists develop individualised treatment plans to address the child’s needs. These plans can include interventions to improve muscle strength, range of motion, and motor control.

Prescribing powered mobility equipment:

Occupational therapists can prescribe powered mobility equipment to improve the child’s mobility and independence.

What equipment and assistive technology can be funded under the NDIS?

According to the NDIS’s website, assistive technology refers to equipment or devices that aid individuals in performing tasks they cannot do due to their disabilities. It also makes tasks easier and safer to perform. Over time, assistive technology can lessen an individual’s reliance on other forms of support. It encompasses many items, from small things like non-slip mats and special utensils to larger items such as powered adjustable beds and wheelchairs. Additionally, it can include technological solutions like speech-to-text apps for people with speech impairments.

However, not all equipment or technology qualifies as assistive technology, such as standard household items like radios or microwave ovens. To be considered assistive technology, the equipment must help individuals perform tasks they cannot complete without it, increase their independence, and be personalised to their needs.

The following are not classified as assistive technology: standard household equipment that does not relate to the individual’s disability, treatment or rehabilitation items, public space changes, public vehicle changes, or assessment and therapy tools used by therapists.

The NDIS provides funding for various equipment and assistive technology to support children with disabilities. This can include early powered mobility equipment prescribed by occupational therapists. To be eligible for NDIS funding, the equipment must be deemed reasonable and necessary to support the child’s functional abilities. The NDIS can provide funding for the purchase or hire of equipment and ongoing maintenance and repairs.


In conclusion, paediatric occupational therapy and early powered mobility equipment can significantly improve the quality of life for children with mobility impairments. Occupational therapists work with families and children to identify the most appropriate equipment and interventions to support the child’s functional abilities. The NDIS can fund various equipment and assistive technology, including early powered mobility equipment, to help children with disabilities.

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