Published Tuesday Apr 17, 2018
Students showed up to Jennifer Yates’ class with a textured rain stick, a sensory ball, a puzzle with adapted pieces that are easier handle, a singing bear whose on switch had been altered to be controlled by a large button and a variety of other toys.
Most of them are studying special education, pre-physical therapy or pre-occupational therapy at Tennessee Tech University and the Adapt-a-Toy project in Yates’ physical management and support services for orthopedic, motor and special health impairments class offered by the College of Education was their chance to transfer what they have learned into real items that could be used in a therapy setting as they adapted toys for children with special differences.
“This project really puts their creativity to the test,” Yates said. “It helps them think through some of the skills they will need when they are working with individuals who cannot use an item the way it was initially intended. By thinking creatively, they get into a mindset of exploring how to make things work for the needs of the individual to improve that person’s independence.”
The class is designed as a hybrid online course where the students do most of their work online but come together in a pediatric clinic setting to present toys they adapted based on case studies of young people with various physical and developmental differences. In the clinic when the students make their presentations are professionals who work with children daily as well as parents of children with special differences and even a few children, anxious to check out the students’ work.
Pre-physical therapy student Thomas Byrd designed a rain stick toy covered with a variety of textured papers and fabrics that caught the attention of 5-year-old Sydney Tollison.
“She is really into textures and the way things feel, so the rain stick is perfect,” said Sydney’s mom Chrystal Tollison, who was excited to see toys made specifically for children with sensory needs like her daughter’s. “They don’t make a lot of textured sensory toys for her age. Most of the toys the students designed were actually really good for that.”
In presenting his toy to the group, Byrd said he looked for textures that were both different and durable, keeping in mind that it could get banged around quite a bit. He also wanted to use materials that were easy to find in case a parent wanted to make one of these on their own.
“I didn’t want it to be anything too expensive or difficult to recreate, because I know a lot of parents like to be involved in their child’s therapy,” Byrd said. “This is something they could make themselves.”
Aside from the toy project, students in the class are also have opportunities to do observations in school and clinical setting, often working with teachers and therapists in the Putnam County School System. However, the Adapt-a-Toy project is their opportunity to show their ability to apply what they have learned.
“The students have a lot of fun and are proud of their work,” Yates said. “Most of the toys actually get donated back to therapists and teachers who have let the students complete observation hours with them over the course of the semester. This is so great because the toys will get used in a therapeutic setting, and it’s also a way to say thank you to the professionals that take time each and every semester to take my students and let them come teach/observe them.”