Student Projects Benefit Children with Special Needs

Katie Aguilar is a 10-year-old with a neurological disorder called Rett Syndrome, or RS. RS affects girls almost exclusively and causes developmental problems. Katie has limited use of her left hand and almost continual, small, involuntary movements of her right hand. She is non-verbal, but communicates with vocalizations and her eyes. She walks, but must have someone close by to help her balance.

Educational equipment for children with RS isn’t available commercially. Before January, there were no learning tools in Katie’s classroom at Davis Elementary School in College Place, Wash., that were perfectly suited to her needs. With the new year, however, came a wealth of new equipment to help her develop cognitive and fine motor skills. Best of all, the equipment was designed specifically with Katie’s range of motion, interests, and capabilities in mind. The designs incorporate her interest in music and her love of Barney, the purple dinosaur. The educational learning tools were designed and created by Walla Walla College students taking Introduction to Engineering, taught by Marlene Baerg, assistant professor of engineering.

“I just had a vision of some ideas that I wanted for this child, and I didn’t know how to make them come about,” says Joyce Beecroft, special education teacher at Davis, who happens to live next door to Baerg. Beecroft mentioned her dilemma to Baerg. Inspired to help, Baerg soon had 10 groups of six students designing equipment based on a specific set of guidelines.

Many of the teams came to Beecroft’s classroom to visit with her and observe Katie to get as much information as they could before beginning their designs. Though the equipment was tailored to Katie, it will benefit other children with similar limitations. “We really have a nice assortment of equipment that we plan to take care of and use for several years throughout the district,” says Beecroft.

June 01, 2005 / Walla Walla University