Eastern Michigan students build play space to help autism center, children

by Ward Mullens, Published March 15, 2011

YPSILANTI - It looks like simple playground structure - several large cubes connected by a ladder bridge, a solid bridge and a slide on one end - something you might see in a large shopping mall.

But for the 120 children at the EMU Autism Collaborative Center, the new indoor structure is a lot more.

"It's called a Miller Elevated Square," said Gretchen Reeves, an associate professor of occupational therapy and director of education at the center. "Kids with autism have problems moving and problem solving. This gives them an almost unlimited set of options. The idea is to improve their motor functionality and help them become more engaged."

The square, which can be arranged in many different configurations, was developed by a psychologist in New York.

But the autism center didn't purchase the square. They asked students in the EMU's Construction Management Program to build it.

"This was a design and build project," said Jim Stein, professor of construction management at EMU.

Stein asked for volunteer from his class and several students stepped up. The students were Chris Suttman, Jack Shea, Greg Champion, Tony Cancilliari and Jon Teagan.

            "It's just part of being part of the EMU family," said Suttman, who served as the project leader. "We wanted to help the kids."

            "It's not a complicated project, but we were very conscious of safety. Everything had to be sanded and rounded," said Suttman.

"We don't usually teach trades in construction management," said Stein. "But this is good experience for the students because you have to plan, schedule, estimate costs and work with the client. So, you see the whole project from beginning to end."

            The students did the work over three weekends and purchased the $300 worth of lumber and materials. The autism center is reimbursing the cost.

             When complete, the square will be taken to the autism center's treatment area for use. Suttman said the project should be done soon and would be installed at the autism center by the end of the semester.

            "The square provide a therapeutic medium that creates a space where the kids can learn to use their bodies," said Jenny Neuhalfen, an occupational therapist and adjunct lecturer at EMU. "This helps keep our costs down, and we are very grateful and thankful for the support we have received."



Ward Mullens

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