- Associated Press - Friday, September 30, 2016

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Strapped into a modified toy car built by four Manhattan High School students, Avery laughed as his father Sean Pozarek helped him drive around his living room one afternoon. The car will allow Avery, who is developmentally delayed, to travel through his house at his own ability, according to The Manhattan Mercury (https://bit.ly/2d0riXP ).

Inspired by Go Baby Go - a program that turns ordinary toy cars into personalized vehicles for children with mobility issues - MHS seniors Owen Li, Eric Higgins, Tony Liu and Nolan Blakenau used the knowledge they gained through the school’s robotics program to build a car for Avery.

All four students are members of MHS’s Cyborg Indians Robotics Team. The four students began working on the project in June and gave the car to Avery about a week ago.

Avery, who turns 3 in October, struggles with mobility because of a brain injury he suffered while in the womb, his mother Lindsey said. He was born prematurely after only 27 weeks of pregnancy.

“(The injury) led to him being very developmentally delayed physically,” Sean said.

The family knows Avery understands the world around him, but he struggles to signal and move the way he wants.

Since he was born, Avery has worked to improve his mobility, Lindsey said. His brain is working to find new pathways to send signals to his body on how to operate, she said.

“He’s come a long way,” Lindsey said. “His developments are just like we’re in super slow motion.”

Avery knows the difference between left and right, so the students rewired the car’s steering wheel into four big buttons pointing left, right, forward and backward. Avery understands what the buttons mean, but he struggles to keep his hand pushed down to make the car move.

“He has this thing where he pins (his arms) back when he wants to reach forward,” Sean said. “When he goes for the buttons and knows what he wants, he becomes a little T-Rex. He knows he wants to get them, he just can’t make it happen. He’s still working on it.”

The use of the car allows Avery to challenge himself to gain more control of his mobility. The more he works on figuring out a way to get the car to move, the more his brain works to find new pathways to send signals to his body. The family hopes Avery will continue to develop more control and move up to more challenging practices in the future.

“We try to put him in it every day,” Lindsey said.

Li said he’s participated in some community service before, but being able to see the hard work benefit a person in real time was special.

“This is the first thing I’ve had a part in building it and seen it go toward helping someone,” Li said.

Blakenau said he was excited to work on the project, and seeing it come to fruition was gratifying.

“The experience is pretty humbling, especially seeing Avery finally get into the car in the end,” he said. “It was a pretty good experience to see all of our hard work come together.”

The plan to build Avery his own car was possible through Infant Toddler Services Network of Riley County, said Micah Karl, a speech language pathologist who has worked closely with the Pozarek family.

The Infant Toddler Services Network works with children from birth to 3 years old who have special needs, she said. Lindsey called the services looking for help, she said.

When the children turn 3, they transition to pre-K programs at USD 383. The connection came between the office and the students. Eric Higgins was aware of the Go Baby Go program and asked his mother, Susie, who works for the Infant Toddler Services Network, if he could use the program and help someone in the community.

“Susie said her son was looking for a child who has motor difficulties who may benefit from the car,” Karl said. “The Go Baby Go program triggered the guys to try to build an adapted car, and Avery was a great candidate for it.”

Karl said the family met with the students a few times to give the group an idea what specifications the car needed for Avery to use, including the size of the seat and the safety straps for his legs and body.

“They did a wonderful job,” Karl said. “It’s pretty impressive high school kids could have a vision like that and really create something.

“It’s kids helping kids,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”


Information from: The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, https://www.themercury.com

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