Quick Trainer to help toilet train autistic kids
August 1, 2013
A new toilet-training device developed by researchers at the University of Rochester combines a wearable sensor pad, Bluetooth technology, an iOS device and accompanying app to help toilet train intellectually disabled children. Rather than just providing entertainment like the iPotty, the Quick Trainer issues an alert the moment the child starts to pee, so adults can take them to the toilet and encourage them to use it. If all goes well, they are rewarded with treats to encourage them to head to the toilet the next time the need arises.
Similar to the Huggies TweetPee concept, the device features a disposable sensor resembling a panty liner that fits into the child's underwear, and a Bluetooth transmitter that snugly snaps onto the sensor. The sensor pad is made of soft fabric that is embedded with conductive thread that forms a circuit when exposed to moisture, while the Bluetooth module is battery powered and reusable. So when the child has an accident, a circuit is formed and the Bluetooth module sends a message to the parent's iOS device which sounds an alert and records the incident in a log.
Taking care of the child at that point becomes a simple four step process. The parent or caregiver lets the child know that it's potty time and takes them there. Then there's getting them to sit on the potty and encouraging them to go if they still need to. Next comes a five minute wait during which they hopefully do their business.
If the child does do the deed, they get a reward through a personalized picture-based reward menu on the iOS device (in addition to effusive praise). These rewards can include the playing of a favorite video, YouTube clip, game, song or even the option to choose a picture of a snack they'd like to receive. If the child has already done their business before making it to the toilet, they are thanked and reminded they'll get a reward next time and the sensor pad is removed and replaced with a fresh one.
According to the Rochester University researchers who developed the Quick Trainer, children who've been wearing disposable underwear for years were toilet trained in 45 days or less using the device. That's good news for parents of children with intellectual disabilities, autism and Down Syndrome for whom the toilet training process can be a nightmare.
"One study suggests that it takes about a year-and-a-half to train children with autism, and many do not use the toilet independently even through their school age years and beyond," Daniel Mruzek, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center, told Gizmag.
Most parents and teachers tackle the problem by scheduling trips to the toilet, rewarding kids when they do go potty but they are stopgap solutions at best. "Consider two to three 10-minute diaper or pull-up changes during each school day across entire school years," Mruzek says. A watchful eye doesn't help either since these kids often don't do a potty dance or display any outward signs when they need to go. Fear of potty accidents is a quality-of-life issue for both parents and children that severely affects all their daily activities.
Mruzek, along with bioengineer Stephen McAleavey, set out to create a wireless wearable sensor system to tackle the problem. Earlier versions of the Quick Trainer featured bulkier components, which the team scaled down to a two part system consisting of a sensor/transmitter combo to fit in a child's undergarments and a receiver/pager unit consisting of an iOS device and a potty training app, to be carried with the parent or placed nearby.
McAleavey states that the device can operate at a range of 150 ft (45 m) outdoors and at least 30 ft (9 m) indoors, through walls and doors. It can also monitor several children at once and records the date and time of the accident for follow-up analysis, with parents able to send the data to a clinician via email. Additionally, they can manually log and email their child's successful trips to the bathroom.
Initial results show a lot of promise. An 11 year-old female child with severe intellectual disability began using the toilet without accidents after 40 days and a 15 year old boy with the same condition needed only 26 days. Both had histories of repeated, unsuccessful training attempts and were using disposable pull-ups before using the Quick Trainer.
Being trained with the Quick Trainer doesn't mean having to use it forever. According to the team, even children showing no outward signs of wanting to potty begin to develop clear signals such as rocking, pacing, vocalizing and grabbing the iOS device when they need to go. Parents can use these behaviors to initiate potty trips, gradually reducing their child's dependence on the device until they don't need it any longer.
After larger clinical trials, the team plans to develop the technology further to assist individuals with other types of disabilities as well as the elderly receiving care to help them become as independent as possible. Initially funded through the crowd funding site, Innovocracy, the project is currently being supported by the Autism Treatment Network.