Sensory Station

Client Coordinator: Shauneille Smith
Designers: Tiffany Chang, Craig Silverman, Wailan Yip
Supervising Professor:  Kevin Caves and Richard Goldberg

This project was designed for two elementary aged children in a special education classroom.  These children have severe and profound mental and physical handicaps including being non-verbal, non-ambulatory, low-vision, and cognitively impaired. The children are developing their cognitive and perceptive abilities through the use of cause-and-effect toys and sensory stimuli. Their teacher requested a sensory environment that will minimize distractions from the classroom and will aid them in achieving their educational goals. We built a tent structure and electronics package to assist developing manipulation skills, keeping the child’s head in a raised position, increasing perceptive abilities, and allowing the child to make a preference for which toy he would enjoy most.

The classroom teacher reports: “The station provides an opportunity for students to be in an upright and seated position; while being engaged in activities free from distractions. The enclosed station assists in having students sharpened their sense of hearing; as well as focus on manipulation within the station rather than focus on other activities within the classroom setting.”

The Sensory Station (Figure 1) consists of a tented structure constructed from 1” PVC and enclosed using thick, sound damping, velvet curtains.  The structure contains sensory stimuli, including various lights and music, which are controlled by a central processing unit, known as the Magic Box.

The tent structure was designed to provide a stable, isolated environment that fosters educational development. The dimensions were chosen such that two children in wheelchairs and a teacher could comfortably fit inside. The tent is covered on all sides by sewn black curtains.  The black curtains make the inside dark as well as dampen external noise to create an environment free of distraction. Across the entrance, hanging curtains can freely slide to provide easy access yet complete enclosure once inside the tent.

LED and white tube light lines the back wall of the tent. In addition, a motorized spinning disco ball and a spot light are hung from the ceiling of the tent.  The disco ball, which can be operated by the student, was hung from the ceiling in order to prevent hazards and to encourage the children to lift their heads to follow the lights. This visual tracking system is important because it increases the children’s perceptive abilities and strengthens their weak neck muscles.

Two lap trays provide surfaces for the students to manipulate toys and switches while seated in their wheelchairs. They were built to fit to the students’ specific wheelchair and body sizes.  They are made from 5/8”-thick sheet PVC and attach to the wheelchairs by buckling a strap behind the chair and straps around the arm rests. The trays are durable, easily sanitized, and can be quickly installed and uninstalled.

The Magic Box functions as a cause-effect control box.  When the child presses a switch, the Magic Box activates the appropriate stimulation according to one of the 5 teacher-selectable operating modes:
1. Play Cassette/Radio (5 second duration)
2. Play Cassette/Radio (15 second duration)
3. Operate Switch Adapted Toys (5 second duration)
4. Play CD Boom Box (play/pause)
5. Auditory Tracking

Modes 1,2 and 4 enable the child to control a switched-enabled CD Boom Box (Enabling Devices, Hastings on Hudson, NY).  Modes 1-3 have a duration time, and when that time has elapsed, the Magic Box automatically turns off the stimulation.  This forces the child to pick up his hand and to re-press the switch if he wants the stimulation to continue. In this way, this mode encourages the children to actively move their hands, one of their key educational goals.

The Auditory Tracking mode is designed to motivate the children to raise their heads and follow a sound.  When the child activates the switch, music plays first from the left speaker then from the right speaker.  This continues for two minutes, switching every 15 seconds between the left and right.  If the child lifts his head to track the sound, a light will flash under the cued speaker. A tilt switch is used to track head position. Figure 2 shows the client using the Sensory Station. Cost of parts for the device was approximately $780.

Comments are closed.