‘Super Suits’ may aid children with developmental delays

A University of Delaware researcher has created a collection of exoskeletons and other wearable devices for children with developmental delays. The ‘Super Suits’ are designed to be light, comfortable and effective for children who find traditional exoskeletons bulky, restrictive and heavy.

“Super Suits is an umbrella of projects. It entails everything from low-tech, adaptive clothing to custom-designed exoskeletons that kids can put on and take off more easily,” Michele Lobo, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy at University of Delaware and creator of Super Suits, said in a university press release. “They like how it looks and it fits them better.”

Michele Lobo works with a child wearing a Super Suit.

Michele Lobo works with a child wearing a Super Suit.

Source: University of Delaware


Lobo worked with a team of physical therapists, psychologists and engineers in the Move To Learn (M2L) Innovation Lab at University of Delaware’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus to design Super Suits.

Among the collection is an exoskeletal garment called the Playskin Lift, which includes flexible mechanical inserts that are kept in vinyl tunnels under the sleeves. The inserts are made from piano wires and provide additional support for the wearer’s arms, which allow them to reach further and improves object exploration and learning outcomes, according to the release. The device is reportedly the first exoskeletal garment created for rehabilitation. It is customized for each child. Preliminary results of the Playskin Lift showed it had both an assistive and rehabilitative effect.

“The Playskin Lift is an anti-gravity device that gives the child’s arms lift and support,” Iryna Babik, postdoctoral physical therapy researcher, said in the release. “We take the family’s preference into account — soft stretchable vs. breathable power-mesh, onesie vs. shirt style and choice of expressive vs. discrete designs. All of our devices are the result of co-designing with the families.”

For the fashion element of Super Suits, Lobo partnered with Martha Hall, a University of Delaware alumna who majored in fashion and apparel studies.

“These exoskeletons are extremely practical,” Hall said. “Our designs are cheaper, lower profile and more accessible for families. Where I come in is to make it comfortable, make it as discreet as the family wants or as fun as the child wants.”

Lobo is also interested in the use of early intervention for children through physical therapy. She is involved in START Play, a multi-site interventional study in which physical therapists work with babies with significant developmental delays.

“By the time they are 7 [months] to 16 months of age, these kids are still not sitting or playing with toys. Their peers are already performing these actions by 6 months,” Lobo said. “The whole goal of the program is to get kids to develop these abilities so that they can grab toys, put them in and out of one another and learn about cause and effect.”

Lobo was recently recognized for her work with the Stephen Haley Research Award from the American Physical Therapy Association Section on Pediatrics.

Researchers are testing new products for Super Suits, including a “smart” garment that senses movement.

“So your shirt looks like a regular shirt, but it is telling us how much you are moving throughout the day and it can even give you feedback to your movements,” Lobo said. “It might light up and show you if you are moving and make you more excited to move that arm.”




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