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Academics

Parents learn to adapt toys for their special needs children

Liana Frangioni helps Shai Shafrir adapt a toy for use by Shafrir's son.

Liana Frangioni, a mechanical engineering major, looks on as Shai Shafrir, a mechanical engineering alumnus, solders wires into the circuit of his son’s favorite toy.  Shafrir’s son has never been able to reach the left side of this multifuctional toy, which the adaptation will now make possible through this rewiring and attachment of an enabling switch.

Jeneishka loves the Tickle Me Elmo that the University of Rochester Toys for All Tots program adapted to accommodate her special needs.

She plays with it all the time, despite the cerebral palsy that severely limits her movements, says her mother, Shaneishka Rivera.

Now, Rivera and Lydia Ortiz, Jeneishka’s grandmother, will be able to keep the two-year-old well supplied with toys.

They were among parents of special needs children who learned how to adapt the toys on their own at a recent Toys for All Tots workshop at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“It was fun, and we learned a lot from the engineering students,” Shaneishka said. “My Mom says she’ll be buying stuff to make toy switches all by herself  -- but to let her know when there’s going to be another event.”

 The student project was spearheaded by Rachel Monfredo, lecturer and senior technical associate in chemical engineering, after she learned about Toys for All Tots at Ohio State University. Last fall, Mattel Inc. donated 28 toys, which students adapted with special switches, and then handed them out at a Medical Center clinic in January. That’s when Jeneishka first met Tickle Me Elmo.

 For the parent training workshop, Gary Smith – the Happy Pirate of the local Pirate Toy Fund – contributed another 20 toys. Eleven students turned out on a Sunday afternoon to help Monfredo set up and conduct the workshop.

Monfredo said it was impressive to see students and parents working enthusiastically side by side, and especially to see the fruits of their success. She was watching, for example, when Jeneishka’s grandmother finished soldering, and “was practically jumping up and down with excitement when the plugged-in switch worked.”

The Riveras with the students who helped them adapt a toy.

From left to right, Lydia Ortiz with the toy she adapted; David Vandermeer, a mechanical engineering major; Shaneishka and Jeneishka Rivera; and Paul Irving, a chemical engineering major.