I sought out pediatric physical therapists in order to gain some more insight about my thesis topic. While the internet and library have been great resources so far, I really needed to meet with someone in person for additional guidance and to find out if I would be able to observe multiple physical therapy sessions. My searching brought me to a local pediatric outpatient therapy center made up of experienced pediatric physical and occupational therapists that primarily focus on early intervention. That is how I got in contact with the physical therapist (who I’ll be referring to as ‘PT’) who agreed to help me throughout this process.
PT has already given me some general guidelines when it comes to toys and objects used to work with children with abnormal muscle tone. All of the human senses are targeted during physical therapy sessions:
Vision leads to all movement. One big visual stimulation for children is color; black and white are early visual cues. For newborns, their visual field is best within 8-9 inches. Their initial visual field is not so strong.
Vision can also be used as an incentive to help them gain physical strength. For example, positioning of a toy or object can be key. Placing it forward in front of the child will cause him to move his head forward as well, strengthening the head and neck muscles.
Children respond to voice, physical touch, heartbeat, and rhythm of breathing. If the child gets worked up, speaking soothingly or breathing rhythmically helps calm them when you hold them. (also applies to Touch)
Children with lower muscle tone do not have great movement. They are unable to crawl or move around to explore and touch objects in their surroundings. Incorporating texture into the designs they interact with is highly important to expose them to what they otherwise would be missing out on. Materials in their surrounding environment are also important for them to get used, such as the furniture around them and different floor textures. For instance, being able to feel the difference between hard/soft and warm/cold gives them a better sense and awareness of their body.
Within our first meeting, PT gave me really helpful advice that has altered the path of this thesis topic. Hypotonia is very specific and can limit the amount of users for my product, as well as making it incredibly difficult to create a universalized design. Instead of just focusing on children with hypotonia, I will be designing for newborn to 3 year old children with abnormal muscle tone, including both high muscle tone and low muscle tone. A design will be created that can cover both extremes since they actually have many similarities.