Julia Dapkus and her daughter Isabelle, who suffers from developmental disorders, work on virtual learning with a fidgety mouse. (Clarence Tabb Jr./The Detroit News / TNS)
Navigating a computer with a traditional mouse was never easy for 8-year-old Isabelle Dapkus with developmental disabilities.
Isabelle struggles with fine motor skills, which affects her ability to use online virtual learning materials, said her mother Julia Dapkus.
After countless moments of frustration, Isabelle can now access her schoolwork and even scroll through YouTube thanks to a fidgety mouse – a tactile, multi-sensory device that resembles a toy.
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“She’s never been able to use a mouse, as always, and it wasn’t for lack of experimentation, but it just wasn’t the appropriate tool,” said Dapkus, 41, of Livonia, Me. “It was her the first time.” When exposed to that, she took it right out and screeched for joy because it was pink. “
As virtual learning has become a common option for families during the COVID-19 pandemic, online schooling has also become a struggle for students with developmental disabilities, especially as access to autism centers and personal therapy is limited.
Step into the Hoglet, a study tool developed by a Michigan company to help students like Isabelle focus on computing tasks and navigate online classes with little or no help.
The Hoglet – which gets its name from its resemblance to a baby hedgehog – was specially developed with elements from a fidget toy to increase focus for people with developmental and autism spectrum disorders.
“The cool thing about our products is that they don’t currently exist. This is a device for everyone who learns differently and for everyone who struggles, regardless of their age or origin,” said Parker Lynch. Creator of the Hoglet and CEO of HedgeHog Health. “I had this idea long before COVID … but I think in a time of need like this there is no more relevant time for a product like this.”
The multi-sensory fidget mouse is covered with a silicone body around which knobs are attached to help children grasp the device. The Hoglet is wireless and minimizes clicking noises so as not to irritate people with autism spectrum disorders.
Parker met Dapkus at a fundraiser for a nonprofit that the Livonia woman runs to help families with children with special needs, and eventually asked her and her daughter to test the mouse.
Children who use a fidget device have increased concentration, are not as restless and, according to a study, are more likely to perform therapeutic and educational tasks.
New York’s Flushing Hospital Medical Center, which conducted the study, found that fidgety toys can be beneficial for all students, including those with learning disabilities. The study showed a 10% increase in academic scores from students who used fidget toys and a 27% increase in scores from students diagnosed with ADHD.
Based on their own research, which produced similar results, Lynch decided to develop a tool that is similar to fidget toys and offers the same functionality.
“There are clinical studies that show that if you’re fidgeting, for at least some people, it helps you increase focus.” “There are so many learning devices out there, but they’re not really available to children in school.”
Lynch holds a dual master’s degree in early childhood education and special education from New York University and has been a teacher for 10 years. During his first teaching career, Lynch noticed that one student was carrying a fidget toy to school, and when the boy was not allowed to have the fidget toy in the computer room, he was not focused.
Lynch took it upon himself to bring the student a fidgety toy into the computer lab, and saw the student concentrate while using it throughout the assignment.
Five years later, Lynch founded and tested HedgeHog Health and patented the company’s first product, the Hoglet.
“There is no substitute for the actual classroom … so we intend to be an additional service,” he said. “So if you can get into the autism center, you should go there anyway.”
The hoglet is now for sale. The company was able to raise around $ 70,000 for production.
Lynch and HedgeHog Health are working on a removable and washable cover for the Hoglet and another mouse that stimulates all five senses.
“I think the Hoglet is so universal … the special needs community has been hard hit by this shutdown that is killing our resources. Our support was cut immediately and the children are regressing, ”said Dapkus.
Dapkus’ non-profit Communication Is Key provides resources for communities and families to help people with complex communication needs like Isabelle, who is a complex, multimodal communicator.
The non-profit organization grants schools and parks grants for the construction of play stations with alternative means of communication as well as grants and freebies for parents who are to be trained in dealing with their children.
“People with neurotypical children don’t value the basics of everyday life that our children work so hard for,” she said.
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