By constructing a confidence-building learning environment for a seven-year-old boy, a group of Tufts occupational therapy students found confidence of their own.
It was an intriguing combination of needs that first led Tufts' Boston School of Occupational Therapy students Megan De Long and Deborah Regan to the sprawling, two-story Shore Educational Collaborative (SEC), a school in nearby Chelsea, Mass., offering both adult and educational services.
The pair was invited to help Luke*, a seven-year-old student with developmental problems and vision impairment, better explore his surroundings.
"The therapists were trying to figure out how to get him to have more fun, basically," says BSOT assistive technology co-instructor Jennifer Buxton. As the Tufts graduate students began talking with the school's students and staff, they soon discovered that Luke could benefit from a sensory activity center that would help him safely, happily explore the environment around him.
They began working closely with Luke, his teacher, the occupational therapists at the school and Molly Campbell, co-instructor of Tufts' assistive technology course at BSOT, to design a solution.
On a $50 budget, the Tufts students modified an existing design to create an economical prototype for the activity center cube that would help Luke learn cause and effect relationships. Using paint, canvas stretchers and other materials from local hardware stories, they began their work.
"It's funny conceptually to sort of think of how it's going to work when you haven't made one before," says De Long. "But if I were to make it again, I could probably do it in half the time."
A New Way of Looking At Things
Weeks later, with building materials strewn all over De Long's kitchen, they began making breakthroughs with the construction, finding ways to incorporate ordinary house-hold objects into the structure.
"Some of it was really low-budget stuff," De Long recalls. "We took beads and put them in a film canister so that if you hit it, the beads shook and made noise."
The result? A multi-colored, collapsible plastic and plexiglass cube featuring different exploratory gadgets for Luke. Among them: a Koosh-brand ball, a CD, bells, a hot pink loofah and even a toy elephant that frenetically shakes its way up an elastic string when pulled. The project, say the Tufts students, gave them new perspectives on the field of occupational therapy.
"We were seeing different people that were assistive technicians, but they weren't necessarily [occupational therapists]," says Regan. "It was kind of cool just to see all the different collaboration going on."
"This is important for integrating his vision with his motor skills," explains Dana Guthrie, a teacher from the Perkins School for the Blind who comes out to the school once a week to help out visually impaired students. "It's partly about him initiating the stimulus. His comfort area is right in front of him, he really likes to manipulate his hands…because of his vision, it’s easier to see [objects] when they're hanging suspended and moving, versus on a tray."
As a result of the project, Luke seems to be branching out just a bit more, and similarly, the Tufts students feel that they've become more resourceful.
"I can say 'OK, if I need to make something, I'll find a way to do it,'" says De Long. "Just having that experience under my belt is definitely a confidence-builder."
* Name changed to preserve student confidentiality
Profile written by Jessica McConnell, Class of 2006.
Jessica McConnell, a native of Hillsborough, NC, is a political science major and a communications and media studies minor. She wrote for the features section of The Tufts Daily throughout the spring of 2005, and worked last fall at the National Guardian Newspaper as an exchange student in Ghana, West Africa. This fall, Jessica played for the Tufts Women's Ultimate Frisbee team.
Photos by Melody Ko, University Photographer
This story originally ran on Mar. 20, 2006.