I have continued to gain further insight about what can help children with abnormal muscle tone by continuing to read books about sensorimotor development and books that focus on why motor skills matter. All of my research, combined with what I have observed from watching PT work with different children, has taught me about the regular stages of physical development in a children compared to those who have hypotonia and hypertonia.
One big takeaway so far is the importance of engaging the senses during activity time. As I have mentioned before, different materials have different effects on the child, especially when used in the correct way. This insight triggered my first design concept, which combines the design ideas that I have previously mentioned.
Design Concept: Transitional Sensory Floor Mat/Play Space
A motor-skill enhancing play space that advances and keeps pace with the child’s development.
This concept is geared towards newborns to 3 year olds with abnormal muscle tone, but it is a universal design that really any child can use and have fun playing with. It combines my end goals of advancing on physical therapy sessions at home, engaging the parent to play with their child, and making sure that the child has fun in the process. It also helps the child develop while learning different levels of motor skills and focuses on sensory integration.
The elements of this product would be a rectangular floor mat covered in velcro and three different stages of removable tiles. It is a modular piece that can be configured in many ways, making each time they use it exciting and new. It also allows the parent to be hands-on with the child, setting up a sort of “environment” that they can watch their child interact with, enabling the child to develop physically and creatively.
It focuses on the child when they are highly immobile, working on advancements such as turning their head and lifting their arms outward. The tiles come in different surfaces that contrast each other: hard and soft, smooth and textured. The tiles can be placed however the child needs it to be at that moment, taking up different amounts of surface area. For instance, softer textures such as carpeting allow increased resistance as opposed to a smooth and hard materials that have no grip. Depending on the resistance necessary for the activity that they are working on at the moment, the parent can adjust it accordingly. There are also various textured surfaces that can be used when the child is lying down. Due to their lack of mobility, children with abnormal muscle tone do not have the opportunity to explore their environment and feel different things in their surroundings. So I thought that bringing these textures to them within reach would be helpful to integrate them into what they would otherwise be missing out on.
It focuses on the child when they are gaining some mobility, working on advancements such as rolling onto their side, sitting upright, lifting up into quadruped position (on hands and knees), and initial phases of crawling. The tiles used for this stage, developing from two-dimensional to three dimensional from the previous one, would incorporate different shaped, textured voluminous pieces that could be arranged by the parent to further advance on their child’s motor skills. Depending on what part of the body they are focusing on, the parent can adjust the shapes to either fit around their child or to give them different levels of support. They can be stacked and rearranged in different ways all over the mat and while the child slowly advances in their development, they will have a slightly easier time moving around it to use the different parts more independently. It will help them by giving them different amounts of support in different areas of their body, as well as allowing them to interact with the pieces of different shapes and sizes.
It focuses on the child when they are have already gained more mobility, working on advancements such as creeping, crawling, and standing. There will be tiles with different parts coming up from the base, ones that can be arranged into a system that works on more focused motor skills. I imagine the parts interacting with one another to create different functions, such as having areas to grab on to, ones that a ball can be rolled through, and ones that have smaller parts to pull on. I invision it as a simplified version of the “Mouse Trap” board game I used to play as a child:
Different elements are combined to create a system that teaches cause-and-effect. The parent and child can combine them together and then the child can work his/her way around the mat trying different techniques. This stage is designed to enhance the skills that they have yet to focus on while having fun at the same time. Another addition I thought might be useful in this stage is to introduce an audial element. Children respond extremely well to different sounds, such as the voice of a parent or a favorite song. This could be used as a kind of reward when the child finishes one task. Once the task is complete, a trigger effect would cause a recording of the parent’s voice or a part of their favorite song to be played, giving them a larger sense of accomplishment. It will make them want to go through the process again so that this effect will be repeated.
While this concept is just an initial idea, I believe that it has the potential to be advanced upon to become a better, more focused design. I will be meeting with my advisors to show them my progress and to gain some further insight into how I can move forward with this design.