HOYO – Shape Memory Alloys enable a new way to approach the treatment of the Autism Spectrum Disorder
Authors: Alice De Nardi, Andrea Marinelli, Flavia Papile, Andrea Cadelli, Andrea Conte, Barbara Del Curto
Abstract: Autism is defined as a spectrum disorder (ASD). It varies from subject to subject, making each person in the spectrum unique in traits and needs. However, ASD is characterised by some constants, first among everything sensory disorders, which are the common thread of this disorder. Thanks to a boost in research and an improvement in diagnosis processes, awareness about autism increased significantly in recent years, leading to a consequent increase in cases. Luckily, better understanding of autism allowed early diagnosis. Early intervention was reported to enable children to achieve better results and positively affect social integration. The aim of this work was to develop an innovative product for children in the autism spectrum of preschool age, to help them integrate into the school environment and be more open to learning.The device is meant to provide complex sensorial stimulation to the trunk of the body of the user thanks to a series of inflatable bladders. Therefore, the product was named Hoyo, literally meaning "hug" in Japanese. The use of a Japanese word comes from the similarity in the complexity of physical contact that exists in both Japanese culture and people with autism. The peculiarity of this device lies in the exploitation of the properties of shape memory alloys (SMAs). Indeed, a technology transfer from the automotive sector to the autism sector was introduced, thanks to the use of smart valves featuring SMAs. This smart material provided an extremely compact, lightweight, and silent system. All these properties are essential characteristics for a product dedicated to autism. Moreover, SMA-based valves have a rapid response.The use of multiple air bladders connected to individual valves allowed the design of a device with fully customisable inflation routine, which can be set up to suit the specific needs of each child to help them relax during day-care activities.Each child with autism is unique, with his or her own needs and sensory profile, which varies throughout life. For this reason, the possibility to fully customise the device is the key element of this project. The innovation provided by Hoyo is the proposal of a device that can be customised to the child's sensory profile, changing the areas and extent of pressure, the time of treatment and the tactility of the cover. Hoyo is a powerful tool for therapists, being an intelligent human-centred device that can follow their patients as they grow. Therapists can use the system’s high technology to adapt Hoyo to the child’s needs rather than asking the child to adapt to an existing product.The device interacts with the child through sensory stimulation and the use of this intelligent system may help autistic children to relieve their sensorial build-up. Being able to release the tension caused by an over-stimulating environment, such as a kindergarten, is the first step towards achieving a higher level of inclusion in the educational system.
Keywords: Smart Materials, Product Design, Sensorial Stimulation, Autism Spectrum Disorder
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