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The Best Ride-On Toy for My Kid With a Gross Motor Deficit

It’s better than the wheelchair we spent thousands of dollars on.

Child riding the Cyclone toy.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sarah Watts.

My family and I live in a one-story ranch, so we don’t have much extra space: no basement, a one-car garage, and 1,200 square feet of living space to share between two parents, two children, and a dog. So I’m militant about what kinds of toys I let live with us. Nothing too squeaky or obnoxious—there’s nowhere you can go to escape the sound. And nothing that would take up too much precious space.

So why do we have so many bulky ride-on toys? We own one of those battery-powered quads that comes with a rechargeable battery. We’ve got a PlasmaCar. We’ve got two adaptable bicycles. My youngest kid was born with a neural tube defect called spina bifida. In most respects he’s a typical 5-year-old who likes Minecraft and turns everything into a sword. But because spina bifida is a neuromuscular condition, his muscles are forever turning his legs and feet inward. Because of the nerve damage caused by the spina bifida, he uses a walker to get around, as well as a wheelchair for long distances.

But when he’s playing outside with other kids, on grass or rocky terrain or gravel, across driveways and bumpy sidewalks, his wheelchair doesn’t work. And because he’s mostly a typical 5-year-old who wants to run around with other 5-year-olds, we’ve had to get creative about how he can get around quickly. Hence, the riding toys, all of which have their own particular pros and cons for outdoor play. The quad, for instance, is good for chasing the dog up and down the driveway, but the battery life won’t allow us a trip to the park and back.

When something called the Radio Flyer Cyclone Ride-On started popping up in my online spina bifida support groups, I snapped to attention. The Cyclone has a small bucket seat, close to the ground, and two big wheels on either side the size of large pizza pans. In my Facebook groups, I saw videos of kids whipping down the driveway, spinning and turning, skidding to a halt, and—best of all—keeping up with their siblings and friends across multiple kinds of difficult terrain, terrain I knew that a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to cover. We ran to Walmart and purchased one immediately.

The Radio Flyer Cyclone.

Radio Flyer Cyclone

from $53.37, Amazon

Almost four months later, I can say without a doubt this particular ride-on toy was worth everything we paid for it. My son sits on the bucket seat with his legs outstretched and his two hands on either side of him, gripping the pedals that turn the two wheels. Because the toy’s center of gravity is so low to the ground, he can go really fast and not worry about tipping over, unlike a wheelchair. And the toy can maneuver over grassy areas with ease.

It’s pretty mind-blowing that a ride-on toy we got at Walmart for about 50 bucks has more functionality and ease of use than my kid’s actual wheelchair, which cost thousands of dollars and was literally designed for mobility, but there you have it. The truth is, I would have paid double for this thing. Seeing my 5-year-old wheel down the driveway in tandem with his friends—playing like a typical 5-year-old would play, without having anyone help him across a bumpy sidewalk, or pity him for being in a wheelchair? Despite the space it takes up in our one-car garage, I can safely say that it’s beyond worth it.

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