Jack Cockle, BA (Hons) Sustainable Product Design, Falmouth University and CREATE Ambassador, completed this project in collaboration with The Sensory Projects to improve the well-being of children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD).


There are currently around 10,763 children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) according to annual statistics. These children require intensive care from well trained people who understand the condition and the individuals who experience it. Therefore, it is natural that there are occasions when these children are left on their own for small periods of time.

However, longer intervals in this care may leave a child with little to no stimulation which is also known as being ‘parked’ which is at best boring, if not distressing for them. Researchers have highlighted the issue of time spent ‘parked’ for children with PMLD and how detrimental it can be to their well-being.

Jack’s project aimed to address the issue by designing a toy that stimulates the senses and brain with unusual experiences to reduce the amount of time that the students are cognitively ‘parked’.

The toy needed to be child safe, allowed independent use and to be durable, inclusive and sustainable.

The result was Tribos, multi-sensory handles designed to improve the well-being of children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD).

3D printed multi-sensory handle - Tribos

Design of the Handles

A pair of PET handles hold a folded sheet of reflective foil and interchangeable silicone textures, the reflective foil is used to stimulate the visual and auditory senses.

Colourful silicone textures are use around the handles with cushioning properties to provide a base layer of tactile stimulation for the children and the silicone textures are both child safe and machine washable making them practical and durable for use.

A vibration motor housed within the handle provides extra tactile stimulation to the user’s hands.

3D printed multi-sensory handle inside

A tilt switch is fitted into the circuit which triggers the vibration when the handle is picked up/tilted. This introduces an element of problem solving and multi-sensory experience. The foil blanket material can be manipulated by lifting and tilting the handles, to stimulate tactile, auditory and visual senses simultaneously.

3D printed multi-sensory handle with grips
3D printed multi-sensory handle held

3D printing has been used as it is an accessible method of achieving high dimensional accuracy within components that hold standard electronic parts and screws with handles that are easy to disassemble for repair-ability and disposal with mono-material casing for recyclability.

3D printed multi-sensory handle step by step
3D printed multi-sensory handle

Jack used PLA as it is a low cost, widely used material when printing with FDM machines. The red filament contrasts the white painted exterior, highlighting to carers where the components have not been fitted together properly for ease of use to the user.

3D printed multi-sensory handle parts
3D printed multi-sensory handles

During the project, Jack visited a specialist school for children with PMLD, who were given the models and prototype to test which acted as primary research. The prototype tested well with the students with PMLD who participated in primary research. They engaged well with all of the sensory experiences and were able to enjoy the product independently as well as with another party – another student or a carer for example.

To create the multi-sensory handles, Jack used a Monoprice select mini V1 printer.

To find out more about Jack’s work please visit: https://www.behance.net/jackcockle

In The Classroom

Why not use this project as inspiration for your own classroom project where students can design and 3D print their own sensory models. Alternatively you could focus on developing ideas for children with physical impairments by participating in the PrintLab Assistive Devices project.

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