Firefly UpSee, invented by a mom, helps special-needs kids to walk
A mom's invention is giving parents hope that their wheelchair-bound children will know what it's like to walk.
The Firefly UpSee is a harness that allows children to stand upright, attached to their parents by a series of straps, with their feet fastened into rubber shoes. As the parent walks, the child is able to move along with them.
Debby Elnatan got the idea when her 19-year-old son Rotem, who was born with cerebral palsy, was a toddler.
"He cried almost the entire first year and one day his physical therapists looked at us and said, 'Your child doesn't know what his legs are,'" the Israeli-born Elnatan explains in a video on fireflyfriends.com. Doctors told her that Rotem should not be encouraged to walk or crawl, for fear of making his muscle spasms even worse.
Devastated by Rotem's diagnosis, Elnatan went against the doctors' recommendations and tried to find a way for her son to experience walking.
“I understood that Rotem’s sitting in a carriage was not going to get him far," she told Today.com. "Disobeying his therapists’ recommendations, I started to facilitate Rotem 'behind their backs.'"
“I wanted to be standing upright while Rotem was upright and I wanted Rotem’s hands free for play and exploration.”
It took time and practice for Rotem to be able to walk for more than a few seconds. But eventually, mother and son were able to walk together at home and on errands and outings. Elnatan used the device with her son until he was 7 years old, refining it as he grew.
For the past several years, Elnatan has been working on bringing her invention to market in order to help other parents. It is now being produced by Leckey, a company in Northern Ireland, and will be for sale online starting April 7.
A group of 20 families have been trying out the device for the past three months.
"For the first time, we can do so many things as a family," Stacy Warden of Ireland, who used the UpSee with her 5-year-old son Noah, told ABC News.
“He laughs and giggles, something he doesn’t do with other walking devices, which he sees as work.”
The UpSee costs $540 and is meant for children ages 3 to 8. Elnatan will host a series of webinars this week in which therapists and parents will discuss using the device.
Joseph Schreiber, a physical therapist and pediatrics president for the American Physical Therapy Association, cautioned that parents should consult with their child's doctors before purchasing the product to make sure they recommend it.
But he expressed optimism that the device may broaden the experience of some kids with physical limitations.
"It is always wonderful to see children, especially those with special needs, participating in a wide variety of fun and age-appropriate activities," Schreiber told Today.com.
"My hope is it will be used by children all over the world to give our children a better childhood," Elnatan said.