Navigating a computer with a traditional mouse has never been easy for 8-year-old Isabelle Dapkus, who has an intellectual disability.
Isabelle has fine motor skills, which affects her ability to use online materials for virtual learning, her mother, Julia Dapkus, said.
However, after countless moments of frustration, Isabelle is now able to access her homework and scroll through YouTube on her own, all thanks to a restless mouse – a tactile, multisensory device that resembles a toy.
“She’s never been able to use a mouse before, like never before, and it wasn’t for lack of trying, but it just wasn’t the right tool,” said Dapkus, 41. , from Livonia. “The first time she was exposed to it, she went about it and screamed in joy because it was hot pink.”
While virtual learning has become a common option for families during the COVID-19 pandemic, online schooling has also become a struggle for students with intellectual disabilities, especially since access to learning centers. autism and in-person therapy became limited.
Enter the Hoglet, a learning tool created by a Michigan company to help students like Isabelle focus on computer tasks and navigate online courses with little to no help.
The hoglet – which gets its name from its resemblance to a baby hedgehog – is specially designed with elements of a stirred toy to increase focus for people with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders.
“The good thing about our products is that they don’t exist right now … it’s a device for anyone who learns differently and anyone who needs to move, whatever their age, little doesn’t matter where they’re from, âParker said. Lynch, creator of 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 longer a relevant time for a product like this to come out.”
The multisensory fidget mouse is covered with a silicone body with nubs all around that help children grip the device. The bell is wireless and minimizes clicks so as not to irritate people with autism spectrum disorders.
Parker met Dapkus at a fundraiser for a nonprofit that wife Livonia runs to help families with special needs, and he eventually asked him and his daughter to test the mouse. .
According to a study, children who use a restless device have increased concentration, are not as restless and are more likely to perform therapeutic and educational tasks.
Flushing Hospital Medical Center in New York, which conducted the study, found that restless toys can be beneficial for all students, including those with learning disabilities. The study showed a 10% increase in school scores for students who used restless toys and a 27% increase in scores for students diagnosed with ADHD.
Due to her own research which yielded similar results, Lynch decided to create a tool similar to stirred toys that could provide the same functionality.
âThere are clinical studies that show that when you move it helps you increase focus for at least some people,â he said. “There are so many learning devices out there, but they’re not really available for kids in school.”
Lynch holds a double master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from New York University and taught for 10 years. During his first job as a teacher, Lynch noticed that a student was carrying a stirred toy around the school, and when the boy was not allowed to have the stirred toy in the computer lab, he was not concentrated.
Lynch took it upon himself to bring the student a stirred toy in the computer lab and saw the student focused throughout the assignment while using it.
Five years of research and testing later, Lynch founded HedgeHog Health and patented the company’s first product, the Hoglet.
âThere is no substitute for the actual classroomâ¦ so we intend to be an additional service,â he said. “So if you can get into the autism center, we think you should still go too.”
The Hoglet will go on sale in December, although pre-orders can be made now. The company was able to raise approximately $ 70,000 for the production.
Lynch and HedgeHog Health are working on a removable and washable cover for the hoglet as well as another mouse that will stimulate all five senses.
âI think the hoglet is so universalâ¦ the special needs community is being hit hard by this closure putting an end to our resources. Our support was immediately cut and the children are regressing,â Dapkus said.
Dapkus’ nonprofit, Communication Is Key, provides resources to communities and families to help people with complex communication needs, like Isabelle, who is a complex, multimodal communicator.
The nonprofit provides grants to schools and parks to build play stations with alternative communication tools, as well as scholarships and class giveaways for parents to be trained on how to deal with their children. children.
âPeople who have neurotypical children don’t appreciate the basics of everyday life that our children work so hard for,â she said.