Collaboration Creates Positive Change for Children With ASD

A group of students and engineers at Kansas State University are collaborating with NGOs to develop technology that will improve the health and quality of life for children with severe developmental disabilities. Heartspring Inc. provides therapeutic and residential day programs to serve students who tend to have more than one developmental disability, including mostly, ASD, cerebral palsy, and speech and language impairments.

After receiving a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s General and Age-Related Disabilities Engineering program, the professors at KSU are teaching senior design courses where engineering students work towards developing devices and software that will help children at Heartspring, who have a primary diagnosis of autism and the majority are nonverbal.

Steve Warren, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering,  says “The intent of this program is to pursue a specific design for a specific child when possible. When we are finished with a design, that individual would then get to keep and use a copy of the design. This is research where you can add immediate benefit to these children’s lives.”

During the 2013-1014 academic school year a design team of about 30 professors and students worked on how to develop tools to address the needs of these children. “It’s often the students’ first exposure to an open-ended design problem,” says Punit Prakash, another assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering that is leading the team. “They identify a specific problem and propose how they can address that. It’s a real-world problem, similar to the kind they will work on throughout their professional careers.”

So far some of the projects that students have completed include:

  • Smartphone tools and apps to help educators track and record children’s behavioral, physiological and cognitive development.
  • Wearable sensors that can be placed in shoes or clothing to monitor self-abusive behaviors.
  • Musical toothbrushes that tracks brushing activity and plays a song so children know how long to brush different areas of their mouth.
  • Multi-touch surface computer games that teach children how to sort items
  • Mattress & Bed sensors that track breathing and heart rates while children are sleeping

The students occasionally get to tour Heartspring so that they can better understand the environment and the designs that are needed there. “All too often clinicians and teachers don’t know what is possible and engineers don’t know what is needed. When the two come together, there is an opportunity to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and to imagine new solutions to real-world problems,” says Gary Singleton, president and CEO of Heartspring. 

More collaboration like this should happen in order to create positive change and a variety of resources for students with special needs. There are so many ways that technology can facilitate learning and help students with developmental disabilities reach their highest potential. 

ICare4Autism and Shema Kolainu work towards these same goals. At our upcoming International Autism Conference many families will be attending to meet some of the people behind the apps and devices that they can use to help their child, especially on Day 2 where the focus will be on technology. For more information and registration, CLICK HERE!