BUDDY is an interactive therapy toy that facilitates social interactions between autistic children and their parents by educating and training joint attention and emotional recognition. The simple form factor and mechanisms provide meaningful features, creating opportunities for parents and educators to improve the children's communication skills. It facilitates better social relationships while also making the learning process fun and engaging.
MasksA set of default Masks for BUDDY.
ConceptualisationThe project process from hand sketches to final renderings.
Joint AttentionUsing the designated activities for BUDDY, children can learn and understand the concept of joint attention easily.
Online Web ToolMask-maker, a webpage specially need for BUDDY to allow parents to generate their own materials with ease.
Motivative MovementsBy repeatedly pressing the buttons on the sides, the users can make BUDDY 'nods' as an encouragement for children.
MechanismThe internal mechanism of BUDDY.
Packaging DesignA cardboard box is used to maximise shelf presentation. It also acts as a storage compartment when BUDDY is not in use.
PrototypingThe final model was made and tested with potential users.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neural disorder that delays a person's ability to learn and socialise with people. It is the second most prevalent neuro-developmental disorder among children, which causes them to process information differently than those with typical growth development. They usually have a certain level of intellectual impairments, apart from visual, auditory, social, and cognitive disability. While all have impacts in their daily lives, social impairment is among the most distinct characteristic.
Autism spectrum disorder prevents young children from developing social communication skills that are otherwise simple to anyone else. Some of these attributes are sensory impairments and lack of focus to conversations and surroundings. In a study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it was shown that 1 in 68, or 40,000 children were diagnosed with autism in 2010 in Australia alone. The total amount of diagnosis is expected to grow dramatically across the world over the years. From this research, it is clear that more of the future generations are at risks of missing out fundamental social skills at early ages.
It was discovered that children with autism give move attentional preference to objects than people. For them, the human faces are too intimidated to look at, and cause them to appear inattentive to people. Joint attention, or shared attention, is the ability to understand and share focus of two individuals on an object. Many typically developed children are able to display such ability within 12 months from birth. However, children with autism show extreme difficulties in maintaining eye contact over a long period of time.
This behaviour can greatly impact their social and communication skills. There is a possibility to improve the child's learning capability by designing a suitable product that allows the child to stay attentive to the appropriate subjects without feeling threatened.
Several interviews and observations were conducted with a child with mild ASD and his mother. It is concluded that in order to provide the most effective education for the child, the parent must be involved and dedicated on a daily basis. The learning process must be creative, communicative and interactive. Objects with sensory stimuli should be used and the activities must be fast-paced to keep the child focused and interested in learning.
Meanwhile, it is important for parents to customise their tools and activities according to the child's needs. This is due to the wide spectrum of impairment in children with ASD. The solutions must be flexible, diversed and allow a wide range of applications.
ASD has no cure, and is a growing neural disorder that affects the lives of tens of thousands of children globally. Toys are interactive objects that facilitate developments in children. For those with autism, specially designed toys are much needed to maximise cognitive and social developments.
This project aims to improve joint attention and emotion recognition in children with autism. The intervention targets children at the age between 0 to 8 years old to help them develop fundamental social interaction. As a result, they are more prepared for future living and challenges.
The product should be fun, effective, simple to use by parents, therapists, and children. By applying it into daily routines, it would help children to understand and improve social interactions, while improving relationships between them and their parents.
Using these guidelines, BUDDY was created as the therapy toy for families in need.
Joint Attention and Emotion Recognition
Children with autism often feel intimidated by human interactions, therefore they develop preference to objects because they are predictable and safe. BUDDY helps to improve joint attention and recognise the most basic emotions in conversations: happiness, anger and sadness. Each emotion is simplified into cartoons embedded onto the interchangeable heads. By utilising the respective head, parents can convey conversations through BUDDY, and train the child to develop eye contacts and understand subtle facial expressions during social interactions.
Similar to other educational toys, children can also learn through physical interactions with BUDDY, which encourages hand-eye coordination and develop fine motor skills.
ASD has a wide spectrum of medical conditions and impairments, at which a particular treatment for a child may not work for the other.
BUDDY takes advantage of a companion online web tool that allows parents to personalise the product and create their own education solutions for their children. They can take pictures of themselves or other people and use the online templates to generate "masks" to put on the heads, covering the initial cartoon faces. It is an inexpensive and user-friendly method for every parent to expose new social opportunities to children with autism.
However, due to the nature of autism, it is difficult for children to use their learned skills across different environments and unfamiliar settings.
A series of exercise is designed with BUDDY to allow the children to generalise their understanding and practice in various scenarios. By using the online software and placing photographic "masks" of different faces, it gradually progresses from cartoons, to family members, and finally to strangers. This transition from familiar figures to the unfamiliar helps children with autism to know important persons, for example, the teachers, and expand their social interaction skills under different contexts.
BUDDY has built-in mechanisms that make its head "nod" with the push buttons on the sides. The feature is used by parents to encourage and praise the child when he performs the exercise correctly. The sustainable, yet meaningful mechanism adds functionality and purpose to the product without sacrificing manufacturing costs or using electricity.
Designed for a Lifetime
BUDDY is designed to last. Its versatility allows it to match the needs of every child with autism. Not only that it improves the overall growth of the children, but also is an essential tool for parents to socialise and communicate with them. Psychologists and therapists who are specialised in children health care can also use the product during therapy sessions with clients.
Aesthetics and Manufacture
The overall shape of BUDDY has a cylindrical form for easy handling. The face and other important features are highlighted with contrasting colours to distinguish them from the body. The side buttons are shaped to maximise ergonomics and allow for a comfortable grip.
The material are carefully selected to offer the best textures, functionalities and manufacturing costs, while matching the international production requirements of children's toys. Some of the considerations are part sizes, moving mechanisms and the use of plastics and paints. BUDDY uses ABS plastic as housings; nylon for the mechanism; and silicone rubber for its base and side buttons. Ultimately, the simplified construction reduces production costs and increases durability.
PROTOTYPING & USER TESTING
The concept was visualised with hand sketches, renderings and finally CAD models. Several prototypes were made with 3D printing and used spray painting and decals to match with the intended appearance. A packaging design was also done with cardboard.
To test the efficiency of the prototypes, it was brought to the child and mother from research phase with a series of activities. The mother followed the instructions and tried to communicate with her son through BUDDY.
The tests were successful. The child was able to perform the activities with ease, and made sufficient social contacts with his mother quickly and adaptively. While the tests are successful in this setting, it would require further testings with other potential users to fully prove BUDDY's efficiency in the masses.
Autism research has demonstrated remarkable growth in the last 10 to 15 years. As there is no medical detection or cure for the disorder, governments and research institutes are putting investments into the medical industry funding.
Some research areas of autism are behavioural, medical, technology-based, occupational, and educational. Out of all of the treatments and interventions research for autism, behavioural intervention is the leading publication output and trend. It also has the most substantial growth of 350% from 2000 to 2010.
Since BUDDY targets improvements in emotion recognition and social interactions in children with autism, it will have a significant impact in future education industries for special-need children.
Various organisations and companies are involved for manufacturing, transportation, retail and storage of BUDDY.
Melissa & Doug is a toy manufacturer based in the US. They are capable to mass produce toys for children of all ages. The product will be produced and assembled in China, while all components will be tested thoroughly before sending to retailers across the world via courier services. Finally, BUDDY will be available through children's toy retailers, such as Toys 'R' Us, which can provide significant product publicity through their special-need catalogue.
BUDDY targets a number of fundamental social skills that are absent in children with the disorder. It allows parents to initiate social interactions with their children, while at the same time improves their skills in joint attentions and emotion recognition. The simple idea of a fun therapy tool allows both children with autism and their parents to overcome the challenges of the intellectual disorder.With the autism diagnosis rising around the world, BUDDY will become an essential tool and solution to young children who are struggling to understand social contexts and improve relationships with their families.
We were persuaded by the evidence here that real people, in a live context, helped quite meaningfully to shape the design.