Compassionate Care

For Kids With Disabilities, The Fun Has Just Begun

From toys to bikes, there’s a world of fun just waiting for kids with disabilities

All children benefit from play – it can help develop motor and cognitive skills, increase self-esteem, enhance social awareness, promote physical strength and activity, and be an overall source of fun and joy. Shriners Hospitals for Children is committed to helping children be as healthy and independent as possible. Our efforts include providing opportunities for children of all abilities to play and socialize with their friends and families.

On the go with adaptive bikes and ride-on toys

Some Shriners Hospitals for Children locations offer adaptive bicycles and ride-on toys that give kids more than just mobility – they provide hours of fun. For example, Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago offers the Go Baby Go program, which provides adapted ride-on toy cars that use a switch instead of a pedal. They are custom-fit to allow the child to “drive” the vehicle.

Also, through a collaboration with the nonprofit organization Special Bikes for Special Kids, patients of the Chicago Shri­ners Hospital can apply for the specialized bikes, which are provided to the hospital by Project Mobility and are given to selected recipients at no charge. Since 2011, the Chicago Shriners Hospital has provided 71 adaptive bikes to patients.

Starlit takes her adaptive bike for a spin.

Starlit, a patient of the Chicago Shriners Hospital, received her bike just in time for her seventh birthday. Starlit has cerebral palsy with weakness on her right side, which means she can’t ride a typical off-the-shelf bicycle. Back in February, Starlit was staying in the hospital for intensive rehabilitation involving physical, occu­pational and recreational therapy. She attended a Project Mobility bike night at the hospital, where patients were able to try out bikes and be fitted for a bike in their size range and ability level. Starlit’s mom, Stephanie, wrote a thank-you email to the hospital, sharing these thoughts:

“This bike is so amazing for her and could gain her so much strength on her right half, which is weaker, and independence in playing with her sisters and simply enjoying life! This is a piece of equipment that I feel could far outweigh the independence she gets from her wheelchair or walker! Literally, there couldn’t be a better birthday present.”

As for Starlit, she simply kept saying, “I love this bike!”


At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City, staff work with local Proud Supporters to fund adaptive bikes for patients, with at least one bike giveaway a week. Adaptations range from hand pedals and secure seat belts, to larger seats with a back and lower center of gravity. Cycling benefits include a sense of inde­pendence, lower extremity strengthening, cardiovascular exercise, weight management, balancing skills and fun – making this a won­derful extension of an individualized therapy program.

The adaptive bikes offered at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Honolulu allow children to pedal using the strength of their arms. The hand-powered bicycles allow patients who may have limited mobility or reduced function of their lower body to still experience the thrill of riding a bike. For some patients, this is the first (and maybe only) opportunity to ride a bike. The bikes are used as part of a patient’s rehabilitation plan to promote healing, both physically and emotionally. The recreational therapy department also incorpo­rates the bikes into weekly “walks” to nearby neighborhood parks, holiday parades and other activities, making it possible to include children with mobility issues in hospital and community events.


Modifications make the difference

Darlene Kelly, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist at our Chicago location, said modifying typical toys is another way to help patients at Shriners Hospitals experience playtime. “A lot of what we use are regular toys and activities that we modify to make the child as independent as possible,” she said. “For example, we can increase the size of a handle with a foam grip, add a mouth­piece for painting, use a different size ball that is lighter weight or pushed with a wheelchair, use adapted controllers with oversized buttons, and use table-top easels or tables that have adjustable heights.”

Playing with a purpose

Adaptive toys are important elements of therapy for patients.


“Toys are either purchased already adapted, or some toys can be modified using battery interrupters and other adapt­ers. They are used with a variety of switches based on the child’s unique skills and therapy goals,” explained Kathryn Hess, MS-CCCSLP, lead speech-language pathol­ogist at the Chicago Shriners Hospital.

“In the rehabilitation department, we use adapted toys with patients to help them work toward goals such as active participation in play, paying attention, learning cause/effect, practicing taking turns and improving motor skills,” said Hess. “When children are able to activate and participate with the adapted toys, it helps to build their independence, confidence and cognition, and it is a lot of fun.”

For Kelly, the advantages are too many to count. “Children benefit from play, and there


are so many learning tools that play provides, from developing gross motor and problem-solving skills and increasing self-esteem to learning how to make friends,” she said. “For children with disabilities, depending on their challenges, ‘switch toys’ allow the child to gain control over their environment, help motivate them to participate, foster confidence and aid in their success in accomplishing a task. They help the child to gain independence as well as an ‘I can’ attitude. Switch toys help the child to participate in play activ­ities and engage with other kids their age and form friendships.”

As the world becomes more and more accessible and open to people with disabil­ities, there is an ever-increasing number of resources devoted to the special needs of these children, including toy guides, spe­cialized toy stores and other tools to help enhance playtime.

TO LEARN MORE about adaptive recreational programs, please visit