Design Brief: Body Pillows for Disaster-Affected Children

After a disaster, children often experience anxiety and stress that interfere with everyday activities from sleeping to socialization. Once a child has fallen off his developmental path, it is difficult to get back, even after symptoms of emotional trauma have been resolved. Adults that children rely on are often too stressed to provide effective emotional support. Professional therapy is often cost-prohibitive.

There are two major steps in trauma recovery: 1. establish a sense of safety and 2. make positive meaning. I developed this child’s body pillow as a comfort object to address the first step. The quilted textures and pocket for familiar smells help curtail hyper-vigilance through pattern sensory repetition. Post-disaster, these pillows could be distributed to help children move from a primal fight/flight response towards cognitive processing.

Inspiration

For most of my life, sleep has been the best part of the day because it was the only place I felt free. Losing even that is a terrifying thing. I want to provide children a source of comfort after a natural disaster in a way that helps them reclaim sleep.

Materiality

By marrying quilted textures from recycled fabric with new solid elements, I reference how successful post-disaster reconstruction memorializes the past while embracing the future.

Consequence

The body pillow will help children affected by disasters find comfort and could extend to non-disaster situations as a therapeutic accessory.

Manufacturing

I considered two forms of manufacturing: 1. pre-make and stockpiled by an NGO for disaster response and 2. provide the affected community with sewing machines, patterns and templates to make their own. Realistically, people affected by a disaster are too preoccupied to learn to manufacture a body pillow for children, who end up being a low-priority until they are developmentally derailed. By manufacturing the pillows in anticipation of a disaster, children can be helped in a way that leaves adults free to pursue other activities related to food, shelter and rebuilding.

Working Method

I worked with therapists to define design objectives and get feedback on prototypes. I worked with a third grade class to consider ergonomic factors.

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