A group of engineers and students at Kansas State University, Manhattan, is developing technology to improve the health and quality of life for children with severe developmental disabilities.

Kansas State University engineers are developing tools, such as gloves with sensors and smartphone apps, to help para educators track and record children’s behavioral, physiological, and cognitive development.

The team is collaborating with Heartspring Inc., a Wichita-based nonprofit therapeutic residential and day school program, which uses evidence-based and emerging best practices to serve students who often have multiple diagnoses, including autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, speech and language impairments, and other developmental disabilities.

The engineering students develop customized devices and software to help children at Heartspring. The courses involve several engineering departments, including electrical and computer engineering, mechanical and nuclear engineering, biological and agricultural engineering, and industrial engineering.

Some of the student-developed projects so far have included:

  • Smartphone tools and apps to help paraeducators track and record children's behavioral, physiological and cognitive development.
  • Wearable sensors, such as accelerometers, that can be placed in shoes or clothing to monitor self-abusive behaviors.
  • A musical toothbrush that tracks brushing activity and plays different songs so children know how long to brush the different areas of their mouths.
  • Multi-touch surface computer games that teach children how to sort items, take turns and interact with other children.
  • An adjustable stand for these multi-touch surface computers.
  • Mattress and bed sensors that track breathing rates, heart rates and movement of children while they are sleeping and potentially can alert paraeducators of seizures and bedwetting.
  • Shoe sensors to quantify the progress of children learning to walk.