OGDEN — When Claira Stanger is riding around on her Baby Bug, she may appear to be a toddler just having fun but, in this case, there's so much more going on than that.
The new invention is helping this little girl learn and grow.
Of all the things mother Shelby Stanger thought she'd teach her toddler, driving, wasn't one of them.
"A lot of people are like, 'Oh, that's so cute.' They just think it's a cute little toy, but I'm like, 'Uh, it does so much more,'" said Stanger, a mother of two children who lives in Ogden.
Claira Stanger, age 1, was diagnosed with a condition called arthrogryposis that causes joint stiffness, making range of motion limited. The "Baby Bug," created at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Salt Lake City, is an adapted baby seat on wheels.
"It's incredibly important that a child moves on their own," said Scott Jerome, a physical therapist at the hospital.
He said the Baby Bug helps babies who are too little for a wheelchair move independently when a condition interferes with meeting early milestones, like crawling.
"If you understand what kids' jobs are to do is to explore and investigate things and if you're not moving, or you're not moving away from your parent, then you're not able to do that," he said.
The mobility device has helped her make cognitive connections related to speech and build physical strength. She's also learned cause and effect. Claira's doctors hope she'll one day walk on her own, and the Baby Bug nurtures that desire of independent movement, doctors said.
"If we continue to promote every opportunity for her to reach those, she will reach her full potential," Jerome said. So far, Claira and her parents are enjoying life in the "fast lane."
"It helps her to see things differently rather than to just be carried around by us all or sat in her high chair," Shelby Stanger said. "She can follow her cousins around when they come over on Sundays."
No matter what curves lie in the road ahead, with Claira at the wheel, she's got this. "You don't have to walk to have a good quality of life," Stanger said. "It makes my heart so happy, to see her be able to play, be able to get around."
The next step for Claira is a specially modified "Go Chair" — a toddler's first wheelchair. The ultimate goal is to make the Baby Bug available to all of the patients at Shriners who could benefit.