New backpack could help kids with autism navigate their school days better
School can be difficult for any child, but especially tiresome for students with autism. A new backpack designed by six college students could help the 1 in 68 children who are on the autism spectrum because it was specially designed for them.
“For these children, one of the most stressful times in their days are the transition times. Think about walking through the hallways at school, or maybe going to a busy airport,” the project creators wrote on their Kickstarter page. “For some, these are normal, mundane things. For students on the autism spectrum, the amount of sensory input can be overwhelming and stressful.” The initial inspiration for the group project came from University of Minnesota student Will Radke, who had met a lot of students with autism and other learning disabilities.
“We thought something as simple as a backpack would be beneficial because they could bring that to school and be comfortable,” fellow student Martha Pietruszewski said. To determine what kids on the autism spectrum would need in a backpack created just for them, the college students interviewed more than 100 parents. “We really wanted to cater to the [students] on the sensory-processing side of the spectrum,” Pietruszewski told ABC News.
The Nesel Pack comes in blue and has straps that mimic a person hugging a student, which can be crucial for some people with autism. Hugging or items with extra weight can help soothe a child, according to autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks. The backpack has additional areas so students can add extra weights too. “Deep pressure can actually target a multitude of areas,” occupational therapist Lydia Brodegard said. She works with students on the spectrum in public schools in West Virginia and said the extra weight can improve poor attention and self-stimulatory behaviors.
The pack also has clips for any sensory tools and pouches for any electronics a kid might need to have with them at school and a slot for a name card so teachers can quickly identify the student. Experts said a backpack is a great option for students on the spectrum because they typically prefer having their stuff with them instead of using a locker.
The bags cost $115 and come in the color blue. Knowing that there are several kids with autism that might not be able to afford the pack, the college team partnered with Fraser, the largest provider of autism services in Minnesota, to create a donation option. People who don’t need a Nesel Pack but love the idea can donate $100 and a kid with autism will get the backpack for free.