Innovative Projects

Lifting Innovative Projects off the Ground

Lifting Innovative Projects off the Ground

Dr. Melanie Penner is a developmental pediatrician and researcher at Holland Bloorview who works with children and youth who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She’s also an avid knitter.

“Knitting really helps me focused, and relieves stress and anxiety,” Dr. Penner says. “I wondered if these therapeutic benefits I feel could extend to children and youth with autism.”

So she assembled a team of colleagues and knitting instructors to find out through a four-week pilot project called “KneuroKnits”, which took place at the nearby Ontario Science Centre in November 2018 with a small group of participants that included young adults with neurodevelopmental disorders, physical disabilities and acquired brain injuries. A second pilot unfolded in February 2019 at Holland Bloorview.

This out-of-the-box project grew from our Centre for Leadership – a fully donor-funded initiative that unites families, clinicians, researchers, educators and community partners in the pursuit of innovative research and educational programs, and moving research findings into care and services.

The Centre provides critical seed funding to get up to 20 experimental, high-potential ideas off the ground every year. Projects have a broad impact, and have included simulation testing for youth who suffered a concussion to gauge their recovery; a toolkit to support siblings of children with acquired brain injury; a nutritional strategy to prevent weight gain among children with ASD; a program to boost the mental health of youth with spina bifida; a novel “Exergame” for children with cerebral palsy; and an online portal to help families navigate the health-care system.

The KneuroKnits pilot allowed Dr. Penner’s team to study the benefits of knitting. They now seek to publish a how-to guide for broader use in the community.

“For people who have difficulty with social situations, knitting is a nice way to be social but not have to make eye contact,” she says. “You’re doing something with your hands that has a nice sensory rhythm to it, and you’re sharing the experience with others.”

“It was amazing to help participants finish their first knitting projects and see how proud they were of what they made.”

 

 

“For youth with autism the knitting group can be a surprisingly simple tool to help develop social skills and reduce social anxiety – two very significant impacts from people with ASD.”

“For youth with autism the knitting group can be a surprisingly simple tool to help develop social skills and reduce social anxiety – two very significant impacts from people with ASD.”

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