Designing play equipment to develop the social competence of children with cerebral palsy
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AbstractThis study investigated the design of play equipment for encouraging peer-to-peer social interactions amongst children with cerebral palsy aged from 4 to 6 years, as a means of developing their social competence. The focus was on developing a new conceptual model and criteria for designing this specialist play equipment and, thus, creating a level playing field for children with different manifestations of cerebral palsy. According to the statistics of the National Health Service, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 400 children is born with cerebral palsy in the UK (NHS, 2017). It is recognised that these children often have reduced social engagement, yet socialisation plays a fundamental role in development. In spite of this, there are few toys specifically developed for children with cerebral palsy and even fewer which support peer socialisation. Therefore, there is a need to develop relational play equipment for them. The research presented here is interdisciplinary and informed by a social perspective on disability. It combined theoretical investigation with design practice within an action-research approach. User-centred design was used for the design development and intervention. Observations of children with cerebral palsy and interviews with their parents and conductors were employed for collecting data about the children’s social interactions before and during the design intervention in order to determine the effectiveness of the proposed concept. Data collection was carried out at the National Institute of Conductive Education in Birmingham, England. A conceptual design model of play equipment for enhancing the social competence in children with cerebral palsy was developed. The model focused on designing semiotic content that could trigger cognitive, emotional, social and physical processes to encourage children to participate in relational play and facilitate peer-to-peer social interactions. Based on this model, design criteria were developed, integrating two interrelated sets of indicators. The first set pertained to the design position and comprised child-friendly design criteria. The second pertained to the social purpose, comprising indicators of social competence, such as social skills and self-confidence. Based on these criteria, a number of design ideas were developed, using ideation, intuitive hand sketching and brainstorming. A final idea of the thematic play environment, “Undersea Friends”, which corresponded best to the conceptual model of play equipment and met most of the design criteria and recommendations from parents and conductors, was chosen for the design intervention. “Undersea Friends” consists of the toys intended for practising particular social skills, where each toy in the play space is a creature-friend and a facilitator of children’s interactions. These toys are Octopush Olly for practising turn taking, Hexapush Hetty for practising cooperation and Larry Long Legs for sharing. Two prototype toys for this environment were developed and evaluated with children with cerebral palsy for the purposes of this study. This completed study highlights the difficulties which children with cerebral palsy may experience with peer interactions while playing. It provides a new understanding of the development of social competence through engaging children in relational play, facilitated by specialist play equipment, as well as the prototype toys of the play environment, “Undersea Friends”. This research contributes to understanding of how designers can approach the creation of such play equipment by providing design criteria, design recommendations and suggestions for further investigation.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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