WEST LAFAYETTE - A recent Purdue University graduate has developed a new product that may assist infants with Down syndrome to eat and speak sooner.

As part of her senior thesis project at Purdue, Hannah Ferrill designed a teething toy that helps strengthen jaw and tongue muscles.

Ferrill explains some children with Down syndrome are born with low muscle tone and a protruding tongue, which makes it more challenging to speak and eat.

“The idea is to get them really chewing and biting so that it strengthens their jaw muscles,” said Ferrill. “It makes it easier for them to nurse and then speak earlier on.”

The teether is shaped like a teddy bear with two pads for ears. The ears encourage the child to bite down upon them by playing music and lighting up the teether.

“Children with Down syndrome… love a lot of like sensory stuff like light and vibrating and noise and sound, so that was a really great reward for the kids,” explained Ferrill.

It also includes a section made with silicone gel to be used in the freezer to provide pain relief for teething babies.

Ferrill, who graduated in May with a degree in industrial design, created the teething device in honor of her older brother, John, who she never got to meet.

He was born with Down syndrome and passed away when he was still an infant, six years before Hannah was born.

Ferrill credits her father and mother for giving her guidance and the desire to find something better.

“She (mother) was reminiscing about some of the things that she had made for him because, at the time, there weren't any products that were more specific for John,” explained Ferrill. “And so that led to a further conversation of why weren't there products made for him? And are there products made today?”

Ferrill is now pursuing a patent and seeking a manufacturer, getting help from the Purdue Research Foundation.

She credits the organization Down Syndrome Indiana for helping with her research.