Stephen applied his own experience as a person with sensory processing issues to design an innovative seat cushion that helps kids concentrate and learn. The cushion is covered in burlap with a variety of attachments including a knotted piece of rope and a fake fur raccoon tail. “It feels very nice because of the burlap and the stuffing [bubble wrap, rice and small gel balls, which Stephen researched and tried in various combinations]. The student with sensory issues can enjoy the feeling,” he said.
Stephen’s mother, Jillian, explains how the idea came about. “Stephen is on the autism spectrum. He gets very uncomfortable sitting on hard surfaces and can’t focus. I reminded him of that when he started to generate some ideas for his I3 project.” Stephen explained that touching and manipulating the attachments help students like him focus their thoughts and concentrate in class.
“Stephen had always learned on his own,” said Jillian. “Through this project people acknowledged him, and it helped him socialize with others and feel a part of things.” Stephen’s Sensory Cushion was such a big hit he was featured on Breakfast Television Toronto.
At first, he was nervous and didn’t want to be on television. But another benefit of the I3 program is that it built Stephen's confidence in educating people about autism. It led him to write a book for primary grade students based on his own experiences. “I want to help kids like me,” he said. “And I want to educate others about autism. It is important because some people think it’s a disease or a bad thing. It’s not. People with autism just think about the world in a different way.”