For certain school children with learning disabilities, focusing on the task at hand is a major challenge, especially with so many distractions to be found in the classroom. As part of our ongoing series on the leading entries in the Australian Design Awards - James Dyson Award 2010, we take a look at this solution from University of Canberra student Aaron Kowald. The Study Nook is a miniature desktop office that acts as a learning aid for children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), like autism and Down's Syndrome.

The Study Nook is a portable workstation, which opens up to provide a child with the necessary day-to-day educational tools, commonly used in a classroom. The unit is easily collapsible, allowing a child’s parent or career to take it with them to school, home or elsewhere.

Kowald approached a local "special needs" school in 2009 with a proposal to design a piece of equipment that would fill an identified need in the classroom. With input from staff, he set about creating a portable study unit that would students with disabilities to learn at their own pace while enabling them to remain part of their class.

After liaising with specialist teachers and therapists, and experiencing first hand how these children interact in the classroom, Kowald says the Study Nook practically designed itself.

“After some trials and further testing with the children, the Study Nook began to produce real results. The users of the device are the teachers and their students, and both were involved in the continuous process of prototyping and testing.

“The final prototype is easy to use, and quick to set up, which meets the needs of the user. The operation of the Study Nook was designed to be intuitive for the user,” he says.

Kowald says Autistic children struggle with perceptual organization, and the ability to relate certain stored information to sensory experiences. “The Study Nook allows a child to explore their perceptual and sensory skills, whilst interacting with the product.

“Children with autism are distracted very easily. Color selection was important for the Study Nook and could not interfere with the child’s learning, but had to enhance their experience,” he adds.

So far students using the device have shown improvement in their work focus while remaining in the classroom environment, Kowald says.

Judging of the Australia Design Award - James Dyson Award takes place later this year.

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