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Sources: Joycelyn Burdett, 785-532-1322, jburdett@k-state.edu;
Bronwyn Fees, 785-532-1476, fees@k-state.edu;
and Marilyn Kaff, 785-532-5901, mkaff@k-state.edu
Photo available. Download at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jun11/627autismvest.jpg. Cutline: K-State students and faculty with the autism vests they designed and mass-produced.
News release prepared by: Kayela Richard, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Monday, June 27, 2011

A COMFORTING DESIGN: K-STATE STUDENTS DESIGN, PRODUCE VESTS FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM

MANHATTAN -- It's a project in which Kansas State University apparel design students have a vested interest.

Students in K-State's Apparel Production II class designed and produced special vests for children with autism or sensory integration disorders. Autism vests, which have small weights strategically placed so they can be felt on different points of the body, provide a calming effect to children so they can be focus on a particular task, according to Bronwyn Fees, associate professor of family studies and human services.

A child with autism or a sensory integration disorder has difficulty with or responding to sensory stimulation from multiple sources, such as sights, sounds and movement.

"A teacher in the classroom may use the garment as part of a therapeutic intervention for that child, particularly if he or she needs the child to be attentive to other things, such as at a group time," Fees said.

A group of local teachers with inclusive preschool programs did not have enough weighted vests, so Fees worked with several of them to find out their requirements.

Joycelyn Burdett, assistant professor of apparel textiles and interior design and instructor of the Apparel Production II class, used the vest production as a service project and a way to motivate students to create a better design and a high quality product.

"I think it put a context to the product for the students," Burdett said. "They had to think about the end user and all of the developmental characteristics of the kids. It became a personal thing for some of the students. They were totally enthused and passionate about being involved."

The vests made by the students have several pockets for weights and a tight fit to help the child be calm and focused. The students used recycled or donated fabric to make the vests, selecting materials that would be comfortable to wear and easy to maintain. They also added an extra element or two, such as buttons so the child can practice fine motor skills. The students were responsible for quality control and coming up with instructions for the vest's use and its technical specifications.

Fees also collaborated with Marilyn Kaff, associate professor of special education counseling and student affairs at K-State, to distribute the vests internationally. Kaff works with a group that has a program for children with autism in Tanzania and will make her fourth trip to the country soon to distribute the vests.

"We're going to bring the vests and maybe take a pattern along," Kaff said. "That way if they want to make more, they will be able to do that with local materials. I think it's a neat international and multidisciplinary project. I'm impressed with the wide variety of designs the students created."

Fees, Burdett and Kaff hope to create more multidisciplinary service projects in the future.

"There are so many needs that we can incorporate into the classroom as service learning opportunities," Burdett said. "Being able to collaborate with teachers and student designers was a real synergistic opportunity."