Montana High School Students Design Toy Car for Child with a Mobile Disability: 'Hugely Positive'

Three students from Billings Career Center designed and built a car for a 4-year-old with Williams Syndrome

<p>Melanie Willardson</p> (L-R) Elijah McCoun, Kai Pohlman and Ainsley Lennick of Billings Career Center in Montana

Melanie Willardson

(L-R) Elijah McCoun, Kai Pohlman and Ainsley Lennick of Billings Career Center in Montana

A unique toy car that was specially designed by three Montana high school students will help a toddler with a mobile disability get around.

Calliope Lindau, 4, has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that includes such medical issues as cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning challenges, according to the Williams Syndrome Association. Because of the disorder, Calliope has limited movement in her legs, per KTVQ.

The situation prompted Kai Pohlman, Ainsley Lennick and Elijah McCoun, three students of the Billings Career Center in Billings, Montana, to help. As part of Go Baby Go, their school’s independent study course now in its fourth year, the three students custom designed, built and gifted a special car for Calliope so that not only she can drive herself but also assist in her mobility.

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“Go Baby Go's entire purpose is to reach out to the disabled people in the communities, especially kids, and try and include them in what a normal kid would be able to do through the car,” Kai, 17, a senior, tells PEOPLE.

He adds, “Typically the kids that we deal with have a lot of mobility issues for these things. So the cars that we build are kind of in a way to compensate for that. If they can't run as fast as a normal kid would be, then they can drive as fast as they can.”

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According to Ainsley, 16, a junior, an application process is involved on the part of the child’s family to help Go Baby Go determine the child’s size and disabilities and whether they would be a suitable candidate for the program.

“We talked with all of the adults in her life and figured out what were the aspects that we needed to include in the car and what would be best for her,” says Ainsley, “and then what were some of her interests and we could make the car look pretty for her."

She goes on to note that "From there, we have the contact for the physical therapist and then we just brainstorm together [like] what are some things that would really benefit the candidate the best, and then just go from there.”

The students made special adaptations for the car to meet Calliope’s physical therapy needs such as modifying the foot pedal. There are even buttons on the floorboard that play music when her feet press down as a form of positive reinforcement.

“What we did was we made it so that she could use her hands to use the throttle so she could go,” Kai says. “But to help with her physical therapy, we also made it so that her parents can switch it to a pedal system.

<p>Melanie Willardson</p> The interior of Calliope Lindau's special toy car designed and built by Billings Career Center

Melanie Willardson

The interior of Calliope Lindau's special toy car designed and built by Billings Career Center

“It's just encouraging to use the parts that are weaker to strengthen them, especially when the option is that someday they might be able to use their legs like normal,” continues Kai. “But it's also just to give them a fun option as well so that they don't feel like it's a tool and an exercise. So it still needs to be fun, but at the same time trying to encourage that learning and that progress."

According to Elijah, 17, a senior, the students tested the features of the vehicle themselves, such as using their hands for the foot pedal. Even a school counselor’s daughter, who was similar in height to Calliope, took part in the test run.

They also integrated Calliope’s family’s input into the look of the car. “During our interview, we talked to them asking what are some of her likes, her favorite colors, favorite topics," Elijah noted. " ‘Does she have sensory issues? ‘Does she want the sounds?’ ‘No sounds?’ So she had an indirect play on the customization because we got the idea. She likes princesses, pink, purple. And we made it in that aspect.”

<p>Melanie Willardson</p> Billings Career Center students Kai Pohlman, Elijah McCoun and Ainsley Lennick (L-R) designed a special car for Calliope Lindau (seated)

Melanie Willardson

Billings Career Center students Kai Pohlman, Elijah McCoun and Ainsley Lennick (L-R) designed a special car for Calliope Lindau (seated)

Calliope’s car took about three months to go from conception to completion. On Jan. 11, the three students presented and donated the vehicle to Calliope and her family at the school. Ainsley says that at first, she was a little nervous that Cailliope would not like the car.

“As soon as she saw it, she ran to the car and threw her body on the hood and was just saying, ‘My princess car, I love my princess car,’ ” Ainsley recalls.

The student also explains that "She really enjoyed driving it around. She had four siblings and they were all running up and down the hallway and it was just absolutely amazing to watch all five of them."

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“It was really nice to see her getting it and be able to use everything like the monitor too because you think it's going to work, you tested it out in all these different ways," Ainsley continues. "But really up until that day when she gets in the car and starts to drive it, that's the only time you actually know if it's going to work. So the breath of fresh air and the sigh of relief after she got in and was able to play and use it—it was something wonderful."

<p>Melanie Willardson</p> Calliope Lindau driving her new car

Melanie Willardson

Calliope Lindau driving her new car

The students’ work on Calliope’s car has earned the praise of their teacher and principal. “It is very rewarding for my students to see that they have made a difference in the car recipient's life,” said Eric Anderson, Billings Career Center’s engineering teacher, adding, “In our most recent car giveaway, it allowed the child a better opportunity to play outside with her siblings.”

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“It is incredible. I couldn't be more proud of the work that the kids are doing,” said principal Lawrence Clouser.  "I look at it twofold. I think that there's a ton of good benefit for the community. Again, you're taking the student that has these mobility issues that are causing them a different experience and we're able to provide this really unique custom-built car for them at no cost that hits their therapeutic needs. It's hugely positive for the family and for the students that are working on it.”

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