Student-created toy initiative helps disabled children play – USA TODAY College
The classroom isnâ€™t the only place college students can and should learn. Real-world, hands-on experiences can beÂ equally valuable.
Thatâ€™s why theÂ engineering and physical therapy students at the University of North Florida (UNF) helped start the Adaptive Toy Project, an initiative through the schoolâ€™s Neurodevelopment Systems course thatÂ modifies toys for young children with disabilities so they can play.Â Created in theÂ fall of 2014, it has more than 40 participants.
â€œThe understanding of what each profession brings to the table is a process of learning, negotiation, and respect,â€ says Mary Lundy, co-founder of the program andÂ assistant professor in UNFâ€™s physical therapy program.
Toys playÂ a key roleÂ in a childâ€™s development. But many children with disabilities â€” such as autism, cerebral palsy, Spina Bifida and muscular dystrophy â€” Â are unable to play them, which is where the The Adaptive Toy Project comes in.
â€œChildren with impaired ability to play with toys independently often experience a negative impact on their overall development, leading to depression, social isolation and lower quality of life,â€ Lundy says.
â€œThis program is here to give children a chance to play,â€ says former engineering student, Ayshka Rodriguez.
So far, the project has created ten customized, battery-powered ride-on toys â€” such asÂ Fisher Price Power Wheels vehicles â€” that giveÂ childrenÂ independent, self-directed mobility options. It has created 13 smaller switch toys that allow children to masterÂ â€œcause and effectâ€ concepts while working on motor skills inÂ their upper extremities.
Each childÂ is assessed, and the toy is made customized to fit his or herÂ needs. Students will customize the toy by attaching items such asÂ arm rails, backrests and joysticks. TheyÂ have even created compartments in battery powered ride-on toys that can stably hold a childâ€™s ventilator.
The finished toys are then distributed to families in the area. Once the children have outgrown or no longer play with the toys, the families return them to the program. The toys are then cleaned, inspected and made available to other children in need as well as local physical therapists.
Rodriguez, who has been working with the project since the summer of 2014, says her favorite part about The Adaptive Toy Project is â€œgetting to create something and then getting to see the childâ€™s face and their big smile, once they receive their toy.â€
â€œPlaying is every childâ€™s right,â€ says Rodriguez. â€œJust because disabled children function differently than most does not mean they shouldnâ€™t play, too.â€