Using an interactive story-telling approach to explore
a more engaging and fun alternative to traditional therapy sessions for improving hand-eye coordination of children with cerebral palsy
In this project, we proposed a concept of tangible interface that improves hand-eye coordination and fine motor skilks of children with cerebral palsy. The project was done as part of the Tangible Interface course in collaboration with Shishu Sarothi, an organisation focussed on education of children with Cerebral Palsy.
To demonstrate the concept, we developed a dirty prototype by tinkering lego blocks to equip them with programmable light and proximity sensors. Using these modular blocks along with a digital screen, we proposed a solution to help children with Cerebral Palsy to practice and improve their complex sensorimotor skills for better hand-eye coordination. With an interactive story-telling approach, it will make the traditional therapy sessions more engaging and fun for both educators and children. Additionally, it will potentially add avenues for improving their cognitive skills by making the learning process more hands-on and playful.
Tangible User Interface Design
Observational Study, Brainstorming, Conceptualization, Dirty Prototyping, Physical Computing
Lokesh Fulfagar, Nakul Kasture, Purvish Shah and Sumit Rathore under the guidance of Dr. Keyur Sorathia
Understanding Cerebral Palsy
For a simple understanding, Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term for a range of conditions affecting a person’s ability to move caused by damage to developing brain. It may also include visual, hearing, speech, and cognitive impairments. It is one of the most common physical disability in childhood with 17 million people suffering from it worldwide. It is a permanent condition without a known cure, but can be improved with early interventions. If you are intrigued, you can watch this video by Nemours KidsHealth to get a basic overview about Cerbral Palsy.
It was our first time designing for a community that had abilities different than us. When we were introduced about this opportunity in the class, the team actively engaged in getting an elementary understanding of this condition and the existing research in the domain.
A brief session by Mr. Armaan Ali, director of Shishu Sarothi (an organisation focussed on education and empowerment of children with Cerebral Palsy), also equipped us with a foundational understanding about this condition, major problems faced by the children and the existing methods being used to tackle those.
To get a close understanding of their day-to-day experience in therapies and teaching-learning methods, the whole batch spent a day at Shishu Sarothi centre observing and interacting with these children and their educators. The teachers were really kind in explaining and demonstrating different specialized methods they use for teaching, and the different occupational and speech therapies they conduct to improve their fine motor and verbal skills. They also highlighted some of the difficulties that they face with those methods and how they need to be adapted for different chidlren. After an overall understanding of different methods, our team spent considerable amount of time observing children in occupational therapy sessions and interacting with the specialists conducting them.
We were not allowed to doany recordings, and hence notes were throughouly taken during the process. Following our some photos that the centre had made publicly available.
The Problem Area
To be able to grab things and plan its movement is an integral daily life task. When it comes to children with cerebral palsy, they require practice to enhance this skill. A simple task of lifting a bottle of water involves complex coordination of hand, eye, head and trunk, this coordination of multiple motor systems is difficult and hence reaching out to grasp an object of interest becomes challenging. There are many occupational therapy activities that help to improve this skill.
However, the nature of those activities is very repetitive, both for educators and children, and hence often lead to a loss of interest and motivation with time. Using a tangible user interface to achieve these skill can prove to be more engaging and fun due to its hands-on and playful nature. It was also observed that most of these activities required direct attention by educator, and with less number of educators as compared to children, the process becomes hard to manage. Hence, the design should be such that the children do not require guide’s presence throughout.
Brainstorming session was conducted to come up with ideas of activities that are engaging and also involve basic grasping skills. The ideas that emerged were mainly around interactive games and storytelling. Since, there already existed enough games in their teaching-learning process, we chose to take a slightly different approach towards combining playful nature of games with storytelling.
We came up with two concepts around this theme to improve hand-eye coodination. The first involved using of a physical sponge ball kind of a joystick to navigate a character through a scene in the story displayed over a screen or table-top. The other idea involved a physical setup made up of modular blocks to represent a scene of the story wherein children can move around the character in that setup based on the story. They will be assisted with visual feedback around where to place the character. The second idea was chosen to go ahead with as it involved a comprehensive set of skills including reaching out, picking up and specific placement of an object. These set of actions would also find direct use in children’s everyday life.
Storytop is an interactive storytelling experience, which allow children to playfully engage with the story by controlling the position of story’s character as the story progresses. The hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills of children is improved as they have to find the character in a story environment setup in real space, reach out to the character, grasp it and place it at the correct position indicated by a visual feedback. The story environment initially set up by the educator is created using modular lego blocks and hence can be used again to create another story. Storytop will initially require a guide to monitor the child’s response, but will gradually reduce the dependency as the child develops the skill.
Take a scenario of Humpty Dumpty poem. Initially, the guide sets up the environment for the child according to this story. Now child can control the position of Humpty as the narrative progresses. For example, when the line says Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, the child is indicated to put Humpty on the wall in the story environment. A screen-based device visually communicates the story and intended action to be taken.
To propose and explain the concept, a quick dirty prototype was developed in the limited time duration. A minimal setup based on a scene in popular narrative of Humpty Dumpty was created using lego blocks. A set of these blocks were integrated with programmable light and ultrasonic sensors. These blocks were used at different possible positions of the Humpty character and also at the base of the character. The setup was connected to Arduino using which it was programmed accordingly. A laptop was used as screen which showed the video of the Humpty Dumpty narrative providing prompts and progressing further based on the success or failure of the action.
The character’s picking up is registered by that position’s ultrasonic sensor. The video denotes the action to be taken and the correct position is highlighted through a blinking LED. Placing at the right position is registered by triggering of both the character and the correct position’s ultrasonic sensor. This success is communicated by a celebration remark on the screen and the narrative continues ahead. If the character’s sensor is triggered without triggering the correct position’s sensor, it denotes wrong placement and the screen prompts the child to correct it.
The following video was made to describe the concept:
This project was special as it came with a lot of first-time experiences - designing for someone with different abilities, tangible interface design and prototyping, and especially working in time & logistic constraints. It was wonderful spending an entire day at Shishu Sarothi, observing and interacting with the children in their natural environment. It helped us develop an understanding as well as empathy for those children, which came very handy while brainstorming and designing solutions.
The project also taught us working in constraints. A lot of decisions were taken on the basis of available resources and time at hand, with the primary objective of communicating the core idea. For example, the use of ultrasonic sensors was not the optimum choice, and the character of Humpty was provisional not made up with lego blocks. Also, the blocks need to be properly fabricated with sensors and circuitory to enable their efficient modular use. The lego set used here was also not ideal; bigger sized sets like duplo lego blocks could have worked better. But in the end, the prototype was able to demonstrate the idea clearly and the concept was received very well by everyone. Although we could not test it with the children directly due to the makeshift nature of the prototype.