By Kristen Daum
The State News
Nine-year-old Katie Frayer doesn't have the type of independence that other children her age might have.
The third-grader at Scott Elementary School in DeWitt has a rare muscle disorder that makes it difficult for her to dress and wear regular clothing.
But next week, Katie will receive a set of new clothes customized for her body, courtesy of students in MSU's Apparel and Textile Design program, which will give Katie independence she has never had before.
"Right now, she depends on me to dress her completely, and she'd like to be able to dress herself and do more things for herself," said Katie's mother, Beth Frayer. "The clothes that they are making will hopefully help her to do that."
Katie's condition is called arthrogryposis, which occurs in about one in every 3,000 births. From birth, the disorder decreases range of motion in joints and causes muscle weakness, so Katie cannot fully extend her arms or legs. She also has scoliosis, which affects her neck movement.
Katie uses a walker while at school and a wheelchair to travel longer distances, Frayer said.
"She's a pretty typical third-grader, but we just have to make some adjustments for her," Frayer said. "She wears braces on her legs and braces on her stomach. So with the braces on, it's harder for her to find clothes that fit her properly."
To adapt the clothes for Katie's use, students in MSU's design studio and functional design classes added various elements to the clothing, such as magnets, Velcro and larger buttons, instructor Carol Beard said.
"They made them with loops, so I can pull them," Katie said shyly.
Accordion-style pockets also were placed lower on the pants to make them more accessible, Beard said.
"(The students) tried to address the needs that (Katie and her mother) gave, and I think they came up with some pretty creative solutions," Beard said.
"Right now, depending on how therapy goes, she doesn't have a lot of independence in dressing, but this will be a first step for her," she said.
Once the students finish the clothes, Katie will receive about seven pairs of pants and eight tops, Beard said.
The MSU classes include lectures and hands-on projects to teach students the more functional aspects of clothing, such as mobility and comfort, Beard said. The classes began to help people with disabilities about five years ago, when Beard started teaching at MSU. Beard had previously worked as a nurse in Lansing.
"I wanted to have students exposed to, very practically, designing for someone who had an actual need," Beard said. "They take the skills they learn in the functional design class and actually solve a problem."
Beard and the students started working with Katie this semester after meeting her through Beard's former colleagues who work at Lansing's Sparrow Hospital.
The class learned about what kind of clothing Katie would need before creating sketches and designs for her new clothes.
"I've just learned how important it is to think about the people you are making the clothes for," said Amanda Green, an apparel and textile design senior. "There's no market out there for people with disabilities.
"It's really heartwarming, because we've put all of what we've learned into this, and now we're seeing the end result."
About two weeks ago, the Frayers came back to campus, and Katie tried on mock-ups of her new clothes.
"She had a ball," Beard said. "Before she was limited by her mom saying, 'This one's going to work and this one isn't.' So, it's like (Katie) went shopping, and she gets to pick the different fabric for the garments."
Beard worked with the students to make sure the mock-ups would meet Katie's needs and see if any other improvements would be needed before the final clothes were created.
Through the process, the students said they discovered that making clothes for Katie wasn't like making regular clothes.
"It's not like you can just make a shirt," apparel and textile design senior Katie Coombs said. "You have to think if she can actually get it on. There's a lot of things that come in to play with it that you don't have to normally think about."
The faculty members also noticed how students learned more than design during the project.
"It taught (the students) a lot of compassion for Katie's situation," Beard said. "Just watching the students respond to her and watching how excited they got over their project and how it was working for Katie — it's priceless."
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