New Toy Developed for Autistic Children
by KATHERINE on JULY 1, 2011
Developing friendship and playing with other children are just some of the things that a child with autism is having difficulty with. Although they would like to join other children and play with them, they do not seem to have the necessary skills needed to encourage friendship with other children. They cannot understand social cues and they may have difficulty understanding concepts that would promote a positive playing atmosphere. Helen Andreae, a student at Victoria University in New Zealand, understands these social difficulties that autistic children experience and as a result, focused her efforts on developing a toy that can help the children in this regard. And on the final year of her Honors degree, she created an industrial design paper on a toy under the supervision of Tim Miller and Edgar Rodriguez Ramirez and in consultation with a child psychologist who works with autistic children and a professor whose research specialty is teaching autistic children. Dr. Peter Andreae, on the other hand, was responsible for the toy’s computer programming.The toy, called Auti, is a responsive and mechanized toy which is made of possum fur. Auti’s fluffiness makes it very attractive to the children and makes them want hug it and play with it all the time. At the moment, the toy is still currently a prototype but based on the response of the small group which have been lucky enough to test drive the toy, the toy seems to be very promising.Among the skills that the toy teaches are touching, speaking and collaboration skills. It responds to the child’s negative behaviour by shutting down but it quickly responds to the child’s slightest positive behaviour. For example, when the child hits the toy or screams at the toy, it will immediately shut down and not respond to the behaviour that the child just exhibited. On the other hand, the toy quickly responds when the child talks gently or when he strokes the toy. One good thing about this toy is that the sensor can be adjusted to respond accordingly to the child’s individual characteristics.You can view this video if you want to see how the toy works.
Toy teaches Autistic children positive play.
A responsive, mechanised toy designed especially for autistic children six months and up has been created to teach positive play behaviours.'Auti' develops speaking, touching, and collaborating skills. It shuts down in response to any negative behaviour such as hitting or screaming, but quickly responds to the slightest positive interaction such as speaking gently or stroking. Each sensor can be adjusted to respond appropriately to a child's individual characteristics."Autistic children find it difficult to play," says designer Helen Andreae, who developed Auti through an industrial design paper at Victoria University in the final year of her Honours degree last year under the supervision of lecturers Tim Miller and Edgar Rodríguez Ramírez. "They have great difficulty using their imagination to develop even the simplest fictional scenarios and have even further difficulties playing with other children because they often don't understand how they should control their voice and body. This can scare other children away when they are trying to make friends."I have had an awareness of autism for a long time, through family discussions and through observing the autistic child of a friend. In developing my design challenge, I thought a toy which could help families dealing with autism would be a positive area to focus my energies on."The toy was designed in consultation with a child psychologist who works with autistic children and a professor whose research specialty is teaching autistic children. Dr Peter Andreae from Victoria's School of Engineering and Computer Science did the computer programming.Ms Andreae says the toy is currently a prototype, so she has only allowed children of friends and family to play with it to avoid damage."The response to it has been positive—children love the fluffiness of Auti which is made of possum fur," she says."If one day Auti was commercialised it would need further fine tuning and I'd look at broadening its functions for a range of teaching applications."
A video of how Auti works can be viewed at http://www.vimeo.com/25756104