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Interactive, quality, and engaging educational material to target social skills for functional independence of young people with ASD

Ana uses advanced technology to address the lack of educational resources and trained teachers for children with ASD emerging markets.

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What problem does your idea solve?

Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often display social challenges that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others. In emerging markets, research shows that a majority of teachers have low knowledge of ASD and lack significant educational resources to educate and integrate young people with ASD. Without quality and relevant resources, these children will not develop appropriate social skills and will have significant challenges becoming functionally independent.

Explain your idea

Ana is a therapist in an app. She uses Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality to generate and deliver social educational material tailored for individual students based on their interest, skill level, social ability, and contextual environment. Ana’s material is delivered through lessons, games, and social stories on a mobile or tablet, which allows the child to retain information, interact with typical “peers” of the same age, focus on building positive social interactions/conversation, game playing, and sharing. Our goal is to provide as real of an experience as possible and encourage functional independence. The stories/games are set in a variety of locations, including home and school. Ana uses predictive analytics and data mining to learn to map patterns of teachers and therapists and deliver high-quality education to children. Ana also uses intrinsic motivation for learning, which takes the child’s innate interest in a subject to encourage them to seek more knowledge in that area. (For example, using a child’s interest in dinosaurs to create a social story with dinosaurs as the main character.) In this way, learning becomes a reward. Ana utilizes adaptive learning systems that understand and track student knowledge, as well as recommend next steps. This makes it easy for parents and teachers, particularly with low knowledge of ASD, to see how the child is improving, and know which areas they can work on in the natural environment.

Who benefits?

Our approach benefits children with ASD, ages 5-18, who experiences challenges with social interactions and behavior management. Take Lucy, age 6, a student on the spectrum in Tanzania who has challenges with social skills. Lucy takes an initial test to determine her skill level, as well as a preference assessment that allows Ana to determine which content will best suit her needs and desires. Lucy completes lessons that work on improving attention span, eye contact, and social skills.

How is your idea unique?

Machine Learning is starting to be used to facilitate the diagnosis of autism in emerged and emerging markets, as well as to improve learning and education delivery around the world. However, there is not a focus on using artificial intelligence or machine learning to develop methods for content generation, social skill building, behavioral management, or educational skill building for ASD students in emerging markets. Ana is designed to continue learning, adapting, and challenging students. In places where trained therapists are scarce, we provide a solution that can mimic, and learn from, an experienced therapist. We also provide support for parents who have challenges understanding the needs of their child. We are always exploring new ways in which technology can impact the field of special needs education. In the future, we hope to develop content that can be viewed in virtual reality and can provide a more realistic and generalizable experience to the child.

Tell us more about you

Inspired Ideas is an Artificial Intelligence startup based in Tanzania that focuses on solving real problems with advanced technology. Our interdisciplinary team of software engineers and behavior therapists are building Ana with the goal of improving social skills for children with ASD. We are currently looking to create local and international partners to source data and develop relevant content that can be used by our system. We are also exploring innovative ways to deliver this content.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We need lots of educational data for training our generative models - where do we get it? How do we best create content so that the child is successful in generalizing to the natural environment? Many of the educational materials are in English - there is a need to translate this information to other languages for successful implementation.

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • Rwanda
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for more than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We are a registered for-profit company (including social enterprises).

Idea Maturity

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it.

How has your idea changed based on feedback?

Through this process, we have been able to learn from both our users and our communities about how Ana can be implemented successfully. Overall, we have become more focused, with clear deliverables and implementation strategies. Target audience/ users -Developed a deeper understanding of the resources available to our users, determined to target special needs school programs initially Testing/ Implementation -Became more focused on targeting specific social skills and really testing the impact of our solution on those skills. Initially, Ana will target/test increasing attention span for ASD students through games and interactive educational content (improving school per performance and social interactions) -Improved methodology for iterating new skills Roll out of plan -Target special needs school programs, then expand to inclusion programs and eventually personal use (at home or in therapy) -Begin by releasing content to increase attention span, then test new skills

Who will implement this idea?

Inspired Ideas, a machine learning software company, is responsible for designing, developing, and implementing Ana. Our core team includes software developers, virtual reality videographers, graphic designers, and ASD behavioral therapists. We plan to work with the following organizations to provide subject matter expertise for content generation and implementation: - Jaffery Academy - Patandi Teachers College - Young Mind Center (USA) - X PRIZE (USA/TZ) - Connects Autism Tanzania

Using a human-centered design approach, you may uncover insights that lead to small or foundational changes to your organization’s existing strategy or processes in order to unlock the potential of your idea. How would your organization go about making such changes?

Currently, our Ana team at Inspired Ideas holds weekly meetings to generate ideas, review progress, and discuss changes that need to be incorporated into the project or process. We use these meetings to explore the impact of our project and generate deliverables to increase productivity. Our (fun!) team engages in "greenlight" sessions, where we explore all possible solutions to a given challenge, regardless of what has worked/ not worked in the past. Our Ana project team collaboratively decides if and how the project will continue, taking into consideration factors such as available resources, time, partnerships, and funding. If changes are to be made to the organization or overhead funding structures, decisions are made by the board of directors.

What is it that most attracted you to Amplify instead of a more traditional funding model?

We love the Amplify model because it allows us to explore our idea and focus on testing/ design thinking. Through this process, we have been able to grow our vision into something tangible and implementable. The platform is non-traditional, just like us, and we appreciate being able to share our idea and solicit feedback. Unlike traditional investors, Amplify is a great platform for encouraging critical and creative thinking!

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

1. At an individual level, our users experience challenges with development of social skills and access to relatable, appropriate content. They also experience daily challenges connecting to their peers, engaging in positive social interactions, and sustaining attention span and eye contact. A lack of successful social experiences breeds fear, damages confidence, and restricts independence. 2. At a systems level, our users experience a lack of targeted and scaled therapy resources, which makes it difficult to achieve social success. There is a significant barrier to education because of the stigma and lack of awareness that exists in our target locations. The therapy ecosystem for children with ASD in these countries is also significantly lacking, which poses challenges for our users.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question you need to answer to get there?

Impact: In the next five years, our aim is to scale geographically to 20 countries and reach 2.5 million children with ASD. We hope to see significant shifts in the way young people learn and interact socially, as well as disrupt the stigma surrounding education for young people with ASD. Question: How do we overcome the barriers of technology accessibility in these countries and generate a contextually relevant solution that scales effectively?

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this idea together?

  • Less than 6 months

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country you intend to implement your idea in?

  • We are seeking registration in order to implement in additional countries.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • We didn't have an operating budget

If your team/idea/organization has a website, please share the URL below.

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Join the conversation:

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Hi Ally Salim Jr and Team! We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the Amplify team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

- This is an exciting and innovative idea to support education for children with ASD - great job! We love that this technology is being developed in Tanzania and you want to expand to other countries.
- One of our experts suggests seeking some analogous inspiration and explore potential partnerships with some of the recently backed initiatives in this article as you develop your app to scale and reach. (
- We're excited to read your insights from gathering feedback from your users! Did you test Ana with a wide range of users (including families, teachers, other community members)? How did it go?
- Tell us about the inputs and outputs of your idea. Have you thought about how you can connect this to more traditional therapies and support for children with ASD - such as counseling and therapy? Where will these ipads/apps be used? How will you address challenge of maintenance of machines and accessibility to electricity?
- Be sure to include a User Experience Map in your submission! We want to know the full journey of your user working with Ana. Explore questions such as: to what extent can children with ASD learn from an imaginary character or app? to what extent will they be able to generalize this to other environments? how do you hope to address challenges related to stigma (including families and children with ASD)?

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 4 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Ally Salim Jr

Hi Amplify Team!

We really appreciate your comments and feedback. Our team at Ana is incredibly excited about the future of education, and we believe everyone should have access.

To answer a few of your questions here:
- We are actively seeking partnerships with some of the major players in digital education. We know that there are multiple (large!) companies paving the way, and we hope to bring this technology to the African continent in support of a marginalized group that is currently undeserved in education and therapy. We are interested in potential partnerships with the teams mentioned in the article, and will be actively exploring those opportunities.
- We have also recently been in communication with X PRIZE, who is currently running an education challenge focused on building digital education in East Africa. Their implementation phase is happening in Tanzania, meaning the content the teams are creating is language and context appropriate. We are looking for ways to collaborate with some of these content generators to further develop Ana.
- As of now, we have tested a few aspects of Ana in different settings with different users. Our first test was an educational chatbot that asks the user questions and responds based on the answers. Our users and community expressed excitement about using the chatbot and we are currently making changes before testing again. We found an increase in children's comprehension and will use the next phase to test increase in attention span. We have also developed a program for sentiment analysis of words, as well as recognition of emotions in photos. We will test this to determine if children on the spectrum show improvements in recognizing emotions/ facial expressions, as well as increased empathy.
- Throughout the past couple of months, we have sat down with our end users, our community, teachers, therapists, etc. to try to get a better idea of how we can use Ana to most greatly impact young people with ASD. You can see how we have changed in the text of our idea.
- It makes sense for Ana to be integrated with other forms of therapy for children with ASD (behavioral therapy, counseling, etc.). It's possible for Ana to be used as a supplement to these techniques, and in places where these therapies are unavailable, we can power Ana with the skills of a trained therapist or counselor. With the use of VR for example, we are able to generate environments where young people can interact freely and without fear of failure. This increases confidence and encourages successful interactions in the natural environment.
- Ana is delivered through an application on a mobile phone or tablet - the pervasiveness of mobile technology is relatively high in Tanzania and other East African countries (where Ana will be implemented first). This means that Ana will reach schools and families with access to mobile technology initially - and, we hope to find ways to give children living in more remote areas without pervasive technology the same opportunities.

We love building for the future, and we hope to design and develop a system that is driven by the needs and desires of our target population. We will continue to build Ana and test her over the next few months. We truly believe we can impact the way young people with ASD learn, interact, and communicate. Thank you so much for your feedback!

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