For children with sensory disabilities at The Stellar Therapy Clinic, a new sensory play structure serves as a site for activity, therapy, and fun.
Two separate groups of UTC Engineering students worked parallel to build the sensory play structure. The first group, responsible for the structure itself, consisted of Natalie Burdine, Katie Garrabrant, Brandon Gautreaux, Derek Holman, Brittany Schidel, Barbara Sevilla. The second group, in charge of designing the activities, included Calvin Fluhr, Evan Craig, Jennifer Blanchard, Hanna Caldwell, and Katie Seepe.
The clinic was seeking a sensory integration tool to help children with sensory disabilities develop. Though the client originally requested a playhouse, a stair structure allowed children to be active while engaging with the sensory activities.
“We had some good ideas for the play structure, but when we talked to them, the stairs were what they needed the most, so that’s what we designed,” Burdine said.
The structure itself consist of four stairs with a platform at the top. The staircase needed to be ADA compliant, and sturdy enough to hold the weight of children as well as therapists and parents.
“Building the stairs themselves was the biggest challenge. We’d never built stairs before, particularly to ADA compliance. Our first design was rejected, we didn’t even know we needed supports under the middle of the stairs, but we researched how to build sturdy stairs, and I’m pretty proud of the result,” Burdine said.
The group built the stairs out of wood and sealed them with lacquer, so that while they are intended for indoor use, they could easily be moved outdoors.
The therapists believe that with the help of a goal oriented sensory integration staircase, children will voluntarily climb stairs to perform therapeutic exercise, receiving treatment for sensory integration disorders.
“The client wanted stairs, to encourage activity, but we knew the activities at the top needed to be really enticing so the kids would use the stairs,” Fluhr said.
The platform at the top of the stairs serves as a play area, with some of the sensory integration tools located here, as well as on the sides of the structure. Activities include a white board, a chalkboard, rotating gears, a xylophone, a tambourine, and alphabet blocks that can be taken down and put up with Velcro.
“We were going to also add an abacus, but it was too difficult to attach because it was irregularly shaped,” Fluhr said.
The project’s biggest challenge was two groups working together to build one cohesive design.
“Having so many people, both groups combined, was difficult trying to collaborate schedules. We didn’t get to directly work together as much as we might have liked. But we trusted them and they trusted us and it worked out. It all looks great,” Burdine said.
“I’d say we all got better at working alongside another group. We were all good at working within our group, but we got experience working along with another group on the same project. We didn’t want to step on their toes, so we tried to be adaptable,” Craig said.
The project was displayed at the 2015 Engineering Showcase.