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Engineering help for children with Autism

By Costa Maragos Posted: June 25, 2015 10:00 a.m.

Marten Fidler, Tanner Hunt and Paul Toews with the therapeutic chair they unveiled recently at "Project Day" held at the U of R.
Marten Fidler, Tanner Hunt and Paul Toews with the therapeutic chair they unveiled recently at "Project Day" held at the U of R. (Photo - External Relations)

As the high school year wraps up this week, a special delivery was made to Regina's Winston Knoll Collegiate courtesy of three Engineering grads.

A therapeutic chair, designed to mimic a hug for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, is now in use at Winston Knoll’s Developmental Center. The center assists students with special needs.

The chair was designed by Marten Fidler, Tanner Hunt and Paul Toews, who took on the project during their final semester and was unveiled at the Faculty of Engineering’s annual Project Day held at the U of R in March, 2015.

Since then, Fidler, Hunt and Toews have graduated with degrees in Industrial Systems Engineering.

“We were able to deliver the chair only recently because we were waiting for a component to come in. We’re happy to see this being put to good use,” says Fidler.

The idea for the chair was presented to the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science by the Regina chapter of the Tetra Society, a non-profit organization that recruits volunteers to create customized assistive devices for people with physical disabilities. The Tetra Society regularly calls on the services of the U of R’s Engineering department with project ideas.  

“From then on we picked it up and took it to where it is today,” says Toews. who points out the idea was inspired by autism activist Temple Grandon, credited with building the first such device.

The simulated hugging device is designed with an over-the-shoulder restraint. An airbag can be inflated with the push of a button, giving the occupant a hugging sensation. The arm area is padded. For people with Autism, such a sensation can be therapeutic.

“At Winston Knoll, they have another method of calming down children with Autism,” says Teows.

The chair is making a difference.

“There are hugging machines out there. But we wanted something that was non-evasive, simple and give the students the deep pressure that some of them seek out,” says Blayne Bosley, a teacher and developmental Centre Coordinator at Wintston Knoll Collegiate. He’s also a U of R Education Alumnus. “Now we’re looking forward to the endless possibilities that this chair offers.”

The chair was one of dozens of projects presented at Project Day.  

If you’re interested in designing solutions to life’s problems, big or small, then the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science might be the program for you.