Shu Yang Lin, Priyanka Kodikal
Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design
Some children with autism find it hard to understand the suitable amount of strength they need to apply on everyday objects. GripHint is an interactive pen grip that visualises this strength with which the child is holding objects like the pen while learning to write. The pressure applied is converted into tactile feedback through an embedded pressure sensor which in turn controls the brightness of the LED lights indicating the force applied. GripHint provides teachers an obvious reference to guide their students, and it also provides the kids to start the journey of writing in a playful way.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Autism is a collective term for a range of conditions that impact an individual's social communication, social interaction and social imagination. Often they need special education to overcome their challenges and learn things in the way that most suitable for them. After conducted some research and fieldwork we discovered that many children with Autism decreased confidence when learning to write, and many of them are also diagnosed with sensory integration problem.
When kids with autism or sensory integration problem start learning to write, they either hold the pen too tight wearing out their arm muscles, which in turn slows down their writing speed and decreases their confidence to learn. Or they hold it too loose, which then makes it difficult for them to write with stability. As for the teachers, it is not easy to communicate the idea of using the right amount of strength needed to hold the pen.
The state of art solution - task analysis - it takes huge amount of time to train the students about the right amount of force they need to apply on everyday objects. We challenge ourselves to design an interactive tool for kids with Autism to learn the suitable amount of interaction needed towards objects in the world. The challenges we have corresponds to the insights we got from our fieldwork, keeping in mind that each autistic person is unique and their senses towards the world are different. Also, children with Autism don't learn the same way other children do.
GripHint is a pen grip that has been designed to indicate the pressure autistic and sensory integration disabled students need to apply on the pen when writing . If too much pressure is applied the light starts to dim indicating to the student and the teacher that the pressure applied on the pen needs to be corrected. This is a simple and low cost product built to help teachers communicate better with their learning disabled students in a fun and interactive way. By making the invisible visible the product creates a more social and understanding environment for learning.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Rapid prototyping might seem like a fancy phrase but that's what parents and caretakers of kids with Autism do on a daily basis. Throughout the research process, we have seen parents make indoor wheel chairs, special toothbrushes, create a certain procedure for getting clothes on their beloved kids. We have seen a father, a programmer by profession, making educational and gaming apps for his autistic son. Parents for autistic kids are more than familiar with facing challenges and learning to creatively think around it. Rapid prototyping skills for these parents have been amazingly developed. There are tons of ideas but not enough people play a part in helping to bring them to fruition. So, what if design can step in? What kind of spark can we discover when design meets autism? How can design step in effortlessly, centred from the autistic child's point of view, to aid them with functional, useful and playful solutions? And that's how we started this project.
Our research was mainly based in three countries: USA, Denmark and Taiwan. In each country we have a collaborated focus group or institution to consult with. There are three representative autistic individuals we closely collaborated with, their diagnoses range from severe learning disabilities, mild learning disabilities to extreme ability in some areas - above average I.Q. One the teachers we interviewed prepares very thin pens and papers while teaching handwriting, so that the pen would be broken or the paper would be poked through if the kids use too much strength. This creative approach inspired us and led to the birth of GripHint. We appreciate the effectiveness and efficiency this approach brought, because it is interactive, and the kids can easier understand the abstract concept that they were holding the pen too tight. We decided to make an interactive pen, using the lowest amount of technology embedded in a pen to visualise strength so that the teacher and the student would have a common reference point while learning to handwrite.
We went through several iterations on building the prototype. Based on the participatory design approach we co-create the concept and the prototype with teachers in schools, parents for kids with Autism, and professors in occupational therapist department in universities. They gave valuable feedbacks on what shape and form work best for kids learning handwriting and the most suitable place to embed the light and pressure sensor.
Learning to write with legible handwriting is an extremely subtle and important skill to learn in schools. GripHint is a playful product that helps kids with autism or sensory integration problem to start the journey of learning to handwrite in an earlier age as well as in a playful way. GripHint also provides teachers an obvious reference point to guide their students better, so that they can understand what is the suitable amount of strength needed to hold the pen. We believe that interactive educational tools like GripHint can encourage autistic children to understand their surroundings and objects in the world better.