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For 2-year-old Cillian Jackson, exploring the world comes with challenges. But thanks to a local robotics club, the toddler has a cool set of wheels that has helped him become more independent.
“He looks at the world differently when he is in his car as opposed to being carried around,” Tyler Jackson, Cillian’s dad, told TODAY Parents. "He is aware he is in control of exploring."
Cillian was born with a rare genetic microdeletion known as 2p16.3 or NRXN1, which was a spontaneous mutation. While symptoms vary, people with the condition often experience autism spectrum disorders, have delayed speech and seizures, according to Unique, an organization focused on rare chromosome disorders.
“Everyone experiences it differently. He hasn’t displayed the typical symptoms. It has been a bit of a mystery,” Krissy Jackson, Cillian's moms, told TODAY. “We just take it one day at a time.”
Cillian loves being social, but struggles with walking and crawling. His parents have to carry him if he wants to see things and if they set him upright he can balance standing. But he's lacking independence. That’s why a therapist suggested GoBabyGo, a program that makes Power Wheels accessible for children with disabilities. When Cillian turns 3, he will qualify for a wheelchair from his insurance company. But getting a power wheelchair can be harder because they’re expensive and insurance companies often want to know a child can use them.
“One of the qualifications to get an electric wheelchair is that they have to be deemed proficient,” Jackson said.
While GoBabyGo chapters exist across the country there wasn’t one close to the Jacksons’ home in Farmington, Minnesota. So the Jacksons reached out to Rogue Robotics, Farmington High School’s robotics club, for help. The club was excited to help.
“It seemed like an engineering challenge like we have to do for robotics (competitions) and it seemed like it was for a great cause,” Spencer Elvebak, the school’s tech ed teacher and F.I.R.S.T. robotics coach, told TODAY. “The kids got a heck of a lot out of it.”
To make a Power Wheels that Cillian could use, the students had to solve several engineering problems. The original joysticks stuck a bit and even the high school students struggled to use them.
“They are really meant for a 5-year-old,” Elvebak said. “That obviously wasn’t going to work for Cillian and we needed one that was more similar to a power wheelchair.”
Junior Reese Kruse led the physical design and created a 3-D printed joystick that would be easier for Cillian to use. He also found and installed a smaller seat with a five-point harness to keep Cillian upright. While Kruse loved solving problems, he wants to show how robotics makes a difference.
“I hope people see the good in it,” Reese told TODAY. “We did it to help him.”
Cillian felt a little unsure of the Power Wheels at first. But using it soon changed his outlook. Now he’s zipping around, chasing the family's two Corgis, requesting to feed himself and do more without mom and dad’s help.
“He loves coming up to everything and exploring it. He really loves doors and door handles. He just loves pausing and looking at things because he has never had this ability before,” Krissy said. “You just see his eyes light up. He just sees things from a different lens and it is incredible.”