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Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism

Our app supports engagement between children with autism and their families.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Since we submitted our idea to OpenIDEO, we've been continuing to evolve our Skills Game feature of the app. We recently released our Skills Game for Episodes 1 and Episodes 2 for our Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism App. Our Skills Game feature is the final of three primary features of our app. The other two (Play Video and Learn Together) are fully developed and already released for iOS and Android devices. Our first two Skills Games focus on simple matching and receptive labeling skills that are prevalent in our first two episodes. The games allow kids to practice these skills with objects they've seen in the episodes thus far and collect sea stars as they get answers correct. Based on fundraising efforts late in 2017, we've now raised enough money to fund the development of our remaining four Skills Games for Episodes 3-6 of Aiko & Egor. We are now analyzing the data that we have collected through surveys in our app and collecting feedback to inform future development. We are also planning to organize focus groups to get more direct feedback from families and users in order to evolve our functionality for our remaining four Skills Games. The games will increase in developmental complexity across the episodes to mirror the developmental curriculum that the episodes are based on. To get a better understanding of potential satisfaction with the app, we looked at data from parents who completed a survey that is presented after 30 minutes of app use. In this survey, parents respond to a few brief items about including whether the app is helping their child and they enjoy using the app with their child? We received 72 total responses to the questions asking users if they think the app is helping their child from 52 different users. Thirteen users responded to the survey at least two separate times. Of the 72 responses, 86% of the users reported that they thought the app was helping their child. Of the four parents who said no, and who continued to use the app for at least another 30 minutes, all of the users reported "yes" during the a later survey. A few parents reported the following additional (encouraging!) information: "Good social skills; improved her skills; educational material." One parent who said no who changed her later response to a yes noted that she had just started using the app and could not report yes until she used the app more. She then reported that her child "likes the app" and selected "yes" to the question. For the question investigating whether users enjoy using the app, we received 74 total responses and again, 13 users responded more than once over time. A total of 85% of the responses indicated that the user did enjoy using the app with their child. One participant endorsed "yes" and then endorsed "no." A total of three users fluctuated from selecting "no" to "yes" or fluctuated between both answers. Overall, these data are quite encouraging. We are thrilled that a significant majority of parents who completed the survey reported thinking that the app helped their child and they enjoyed using the app. Unfortunately, when we asked parents for further feedback in the survey, parents did not give us information to improve the app or report any barriers. We would love to find out more about the any barriers to success that parents are experiencing. We hope to continue to test the app to learn if there are any ways to improve our product to meet the needs of more parents.

Name or Organization

See Beneath, Inc.

Geography

We are based in California, but our app can be accessed worldwide.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD

Type

  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Most families of young children that are diagnosed with risk for autism or with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have experienced years of challenges engaging their child and the news of the diagnosis may create a feeling of hopelessness. Their child likely enjoys watching animated videos and playing with interactive apps, but most apps for children with autism do not encourage engagement between children and their families. The Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism app uses the child's motivation to watch animated videos and creates opportunities for real-time engagement and learning.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism packages over 60 minutes of simplified animated videos created specifically for children with autism in an interactive app that includes three different ways for children and families to engage. The app provides families and teachers with additional tools to increase engagement with their child through fun and educational content. One feature in the app includes instructions embedded within the videos to help adults engage with their child in real-time. The creators of Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism have years of experience tutoring and playing with children with autism and decided that more tools and apps designed specifically for children with autism and their families need to be developed. Not all children enjoy the same activities, but families need options of different ways to engage their child. Obtaining meaningful engagement is much easier for families that have typically developing children who are motivated to engage with others in their lives. In order to attempt to engage children with autism, families and teachers around the world need to use what is intrinsically motivating to their child, in this case animated videos and technology. This allows the adult to participate with their child in an activity that they enjoy and show their child that social interactions with other human beings can have value and be fun.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

The incidence of autism has been increasingly greatly over the past 20 years to 1 in 68 children. This means that there are many more families and teachers than ever who are looking for innovative ways to motivate and engage their child with autism. Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism aims to be one of those tools that can successfully increase social engagement with children with autism and provide fun opportunities for learning basic developmental skills.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

The first few years of a child's life are extremely critical in terms of developing and connecting with key caretakers and family members. We believe that the first few years are even more critical for children with ASD because children can benefit immensely from early intervention. Unfortunately, a trend we have seen from our clinical experience and one that is emerging in the literature as well, is that many parents who report seeing delays in their children then become a victim to the "wait and see approach, " where children are not diagnosed until much later and the children lose access to services. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. Another path that parents inevitably are forced to take is one in which they get a diagnosis, but their child does not receive services for several months. This "wait time" is dangerous because everyday that a child does not have access to high quality resources during their first few years of life can be detrimental to the child's later success. Our goal is to support parents and families who are experiencing the "wait and see" approach, waiting for services to start, or for families who want innovative ways to work with their children. In addition, although the APA suggests screen time is appropriate after two years of age, the reality is that the abundance of technology is leading families and very young children to engage with screen media before children reach two years old. Aiko & Egor's Learn Together function supports using the app while playing with toys and other family members. Rather than just creating developmentally appropriate content, we are pairing technology use with real time play and joyful experiences with parents or family members. Thus, instead of children getting engrossed in a movie or video, our application prompts users to engage with their children and practice developmentally appropriate skills, which in turn focuses the child's attention on playing and connecting interpersonally with loved ones. Specifically, the app has many innovative characteristics to meet the needs of young children with ASD, including: • Aiko & Egor is an animated video series designed specifically for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). • The engaging underwater characters model appropriate social interactions and behavior for various developmental levels. • The videos are intended to be watched by an adult and child together to facilitate social engagement. • Aiko & Egor uses a modified curriculum based on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) and the Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research (STAR) curricula. We have incoporated the animated content into an interactive smart phone and tablet application called Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism. The Season 1 app includes six episodes targeting communication, play, social, and imitation skills that increase in complexity targeting the developmental ages of 2-7 years old. Episodes 1 and 4 are free on iPad, iPhone, and all Android devices. The app presents three different ways to engage with the content in the app: 1) Play Video: • Watch the entire episode or choose a particular scene. • Fun for the entire family and appropriate for a child to watch independently or with siblings or peers. 2) Learn Together: • An adult and child watch the same video content with embedded pauses (“Bubble Times”) that occur at learning moments. • During each Bubble Time, the video pauses and a menu pops up that displays instructions for the learning opportunity. • The adult follows the instructions to facilitate the learning moment and then replays the character’s action, prompts the child's appropriate response, or continues the video. 3) Skills Games: • Each episode has a game that allows the child with an adult to practice the developmental skills that were targeted in that episode. • Each game uses familiar content from that episode and presents a fun way for more engagement. • Examples of games in episodes 1 and 2 include matching objects and shapes and receptive labeling of animals.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Our app benefits the child directly by providing appropriate and educational animated video content and embedding learning opportunities within the app itself. The animated content follows a modified developmentally-appropriate curriculum that includes simple play imitation, language development, and social skills. Hopefully our app can be one tool that supports a child's development. The family or teacher also benefits from our app by providing opportunities for increased engagement, which could lead to more feelings of connectedness and more potential moments of learning with their child. The co-founders of See Beneath, Inc. and co-creators of Aiko & Egor: Animation for Autism have worked directly with young children with autism and their families for years. This means countless conversations with families about what support they are looking for and thousands of hours playing and interacting with children with autism.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

The Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism app has been available on iOS for two years and Android devices for a year and a half and we already have over 8,000 downloads with limited marketing efforts. We do not yet have research showing the effectiveness of our app, but our app utilizes research-based principles of video modeling and Applied Behavior Analysis and is based on a developmental curriculum for children with autism. We think the best indication of the immediate and potential impact of our app for an individual child is from unprompted testimonials from families. These testimonials capture the potential for more widespread impact for thousands of children and families. Below are two comments about our app from Fall, 2017: "After we got my son's diagnosis, our world changed. Yes, he's the same goofball boy, but now with more resources. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of money to be able to afford many of those resources. My son thrives on mostly free stuff and this particular app doesn't only help his autism symptoms specifically, but also enables him to bond with his brothers, and his brothers to bond and *feel* loved by him, when they play together...Thank you SO much for being part of our autism village!" "My little grandson who is 3.6 years old loves Aiko & Egor. He is autistic and he loves the songs that they sing. When he laughs it brings joy to my heart. Thank you for making such a wonderful game for kids with autism."

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

An important component of the mission of See Beneath, Inc. is to provide more opportunities for access to autism-specific tools for families who do not have access to autism services. By developing a free app, we are able to bring the content to the family. Many families don't live in areas where they can obtain important early intervention support for their child and thus it is important to provide free or low cost supports however possible. We are also exploring other ways to provide our content to low-income families who may not have a smart phone or tablet and will continue to make this a priority.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism transforms the nature of apps for children with autism spectrum disorder and their families. There are many apps that are available for children with autism. Many of them are cause and effect apps that present simple games or tasks that could be fun for any child. Others are support apps that facilitate communication or routines. We believe that we have developed the only app that uses animated videos to create natural opportunities for engagement in real time between family member and child. To encourage interaction, the app relies on children's motivation to watch animated videos and promotes interactions and activities that can be done together. Most apps are meant to be used by only one child or person at a time. We believe that the power of Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism lies also in the simplicity of our animation, our evidenced-based principles of video modeling, and our developmental curriculum that is followed to embed appropriate skills and communication within the interaction of the characters. If children see their favorite animated characters playing with their friends appropriately and having fun while doing it, we think this increases the likelihood that children will want to imitate their favorite characters and do the same activities while watching the videos. The Learn Together functionality has three "Bubble Time" learning opportunities embedded in each scene (12 per episode). At these moments, the animated videos pause and a simple instruction page pops up that facilitates engagement between adult and child and imitates the actions presented by the characters. This engagement moment is the bread and butter of Aiko & Egor and is what tranforms an animated video series into an interactive tool to facilitate social interactions. After practicing skills, parents record how the child performed through a brief survey, and then the animated content continues. Thus, the app tracks the child’s progress across time, targets skills from developmental curricula designed specifically for children with ASD (Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research (STAR), and the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)). The app also presents simple data capture functionality and visualization that allows adults to track the progress of their child over time on the developmental skills practiced while watching the app. This functionaliy adds to the power of Aiko & Egor: Animation 4 Autism.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Considering that we already have over 8,000 downloads in less than 2 years with limited marketing, we believe we can reach thousands more families with more robust marketing efforts. Our challenge has been that we are a small, volunteer-based nonprofit that relies primarily on individual donations and small grants to fund the development of our tools. We have put the vast majority of money raised directly into product development and now that we have a product in the marketplace that we are proud of we are in search of our big break to grow our organization and increase our marketing presence. Our app has two episodes of free content and four episodes that are available for in-app purchase. Since we want our app to be accessible to as many families as possible, we are not willing to charge a significant price for our content, but we are considering other ways or products that could support our path to financial sustainability. With the rate of autism increasing and the need for inexpensive autism-specific tools (autism costs a family at least $60,000/year), we believe that every family can benefit from our app. And even though we've developed our content with children with autism in mind, children of all ages and all developmental levels can enjoy and benefit from our tools.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

The idea for developing an animated video series specifically for children with autism was developed in 2010 from feedback from families and our general observations. After developing a pilot episode of Aiko & Egor in 2011, we worked with a team of volunteers from 2013-2015 to create six episodes of animated content (over 60 minutes of videos). We then worked with an app development company to create our app for all iOS and Android devices. We have developed the Play Video and Learn Together features of the app for all six episodes as well as Skills Games for Episodes 1 and 2. We are currently working on Skills Games for the final four episodes, which is the final planned development for the app. We have funding for the development of these final Skills Games but do not have budget for robust marketing or future fundraising efforts. Our organization continues to rely on the three co-founders and two other Board Members, plus other core volunteers to suppor the work. Luckily, we have a great app development partner that is committed to supporting us with discounted services. We are constantly discussing what is next, including more robust research about our app and additional tools that we may want to develop in the future.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Our business model as a nonprofit relies on philanthropy and grants, but we have built-in a revenue stream within the app itself. When you download the app for the first time, you get free access to episodes 1 and 4, including the learn together functionality for these episodes. The remaining four episodes are available for an in-app purchase of $1.99 per episode. We originally envisioned obtaining a high rate of conversion for users to purchase episodes, but this unfortunately has not been the case as a small percentage of users are actually paying for additional episodes. This leads to limited revenue and an increased reliability on tax-deductible contributions. We have been rethinking our revenue model recently as we ponder whether the entire app should cost money to download or if we should increase or decrease the cost of in-app purchases to increase the product revenue stream. Since we are a nonprofit that wants to provide access to our tools to all families or children with autism, we do not want cost to be a deterrent to families who want to use the app and feel like it would be beneficial for their child. Without a large revenue stream, we remain a very small volunteer-based nonprofit. We are interested to learn why parents are lacking interest when it comes to purchases new episodes, and we are open to discussing possibilities for improving our business model as we look towards a path to sustainability and would love to learn from other nonprofits and small businesses. Our mission is to provide innovative tools to children with ASD and we are dedicated to finding ways to increase our impact and to help the ASD community and the people who love and support individuals with autism.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

A human-centered approach is embedded in the roots of our work because we cannot talk about who we are, our ideas, our goals, or why we do what we do without acknowledging and paying respect to the population that we aim to serve. First, working with children with ASD and their families was the catalyst that drove the co-founders to recruit a team of artists to create the pilot episode. Second, feedback from parents and researchers and results from pilot research encouraged us to create our nonprofit, See Beneath, Inc. Third, reactions from children who view animation and feedback from families in our surveys fueled our dedicated board members and loved ones to create life-size mascots of the characters that spread joy to children across Southern California multiple times per year. In sum, everything we do is based around the experience of children with ASD and their families, and our company would not exist if children with ASD had not inspired our board members to volunteer their time and resources for the past 5 years. Our goal is to provide innovative resources to children with ASD and we are dedicated to learning how to support this population and their loved ones during the critical moments when early intervention is such a valuable resource that can be unattainable by many. First, during our clinical work, we observed children’s inclinations toward technology. This observation was also supported in the literature looking at children with ASD and technology use. We observed children spending daily time engaging with technology and we wanted to support children to have the option to engage socially while also engaging with technology. We mulled over different mediums and avenues until the idea of embedding skills and curricula into animation to create an interactive experience for children with ASD was born. We informally assessed children’s color preferences, character and setting preferences and incorporated the things that children appeared to prefer. Second, after creating our pilot episode, we received helpful feedback from researchers about how to make the video a stronger teaching tools. We also learned that almost all of the parents that we surveyed wanted an application such as Aiko & Egor to share with their children. As previously noted, the app is designed to support child and adult interactions during app use, however, the pilot studies have evaluated the app as a learning tool alone. The results revealed that all children were able to acquire play and communication skills from using the app over time. In addition, some children learned from the app by itself and others benefitted from additional procedures such as prompting, reinforcement, and modeling. These results indirectly support the goal of the app, which is to support learning through a combination of video models and adult-child interactions (e.g., prompting, reinforcement). See Beneath intends to research with adults and children using the app in their homes, as we originally intended the app to be used, but these results are highly encouraging. We plan to collect more data in real-world settings with parents and children with ASD though focus groups and through data collection procedures embedded in the app. We would love to ensure that the prize money is used in ways that support the human-centered perspective as well. For example, we would love to use some of the prize money to compensate parents for using the app with their children in a structured manner (e.g., 2 times/week for 6 weeks) to learn about barriers or benefits associated with the app. Third, we aim to create a widespread impact, but also an impact in our local community through participating in annual ASD-related walk, runs, charity drives, and resource fairs. At several of these community events, parents have anecdotally reported a lack of learning tools aimed at children of all ages, and in particular the needs of older children. We strive to provide families with new learning tools as soon as we have the capacity and funding to do so. We will always collect feedback and survey data by asking parents about resources that could benefit their families. We have dedicated our company to making refinements based upon our transparent relationship with our users such that when parents have contacted us with feedback or issues. For example, a parent connected with us and asked if there was a way to disable the learn together function when he is unable to practice skills with his child. At first, we were unsure if we wanted to support such a change because this function, in our eyes, is why our app is special and different from other applications. Yet, after we assessed the impact of the father's request, we believed that the changes could help families enjoy the app more, and also increase the integrity of our data. Thus, we implemented the change and the app now has the disabling function and we are happy to have met the needs of the users.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

See Beneath, Inc. (www.seebeneath.org) is a 501(c)3 California-based nonprofit established in 2012. Our mission is to engage and educate children with autism by creating and providing innovative tools that foster positive change and help children reach developmental milestones. See Beneath was born out of our passion for supporting families of children with developmental disabilities and we thoroughly enjoy giving back to the community. We take part in California autism events annually and also have created our own Animation 4 Autism community event to raise awareness for early intervention for children with autism, which we have hosted for two straight years. The co-founders of See Beneath and co-creators of our idea worked at the University of California San Diego's Autism Intervention Research Program from 2008-2012. We provided play-based intervention services for children under the age of 36 months old who were at-risk for ASD and parent training for families. The Chairperson of See Beneath has an older brother with autism and has seen first hand the challenges that come with supporting a family member impacted by ASD. She continues to study directly with children with autism and their families as part of a Ph.D. program in Developmental Psychology. Others within the organization continue to support children with autism through intervention programs and more formal education, including a key member of the team who has a daughter who is diagnosed with ASD.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We have many great people involved in our work and some important partners, but we are always looking for influential individuals and organizations within the early childhood space to help us increase our impact, reach more families, and scale our idea. We are in search of organizations that want to fund our work to increase our marketing efforts and create more tools. We are also looking for other organizations in this space that want to partner with us to bring our app into their community, either through a program, service, or educational effort.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We need help with online marketing for our app, as well as any other potential marketing support. We are also looking for experts in game design for young children as we are developing our final 4 Skills Games in our app. Finally, we are interested in partnering with experts in early childhood education to think about what other tools might be helpful for children with autism and their families.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We need mentoring support for marketing, fundraising, and nonprofit scaling.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

https://www.seebeneath.org/ https://www.seebeneath.org/team.html https://www.linkedin.com/in/caseymhoffman/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/gerin-gaskin-57b9637a/

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

These three videos show the progression of our animated content, from our pilot episode, to a prototype of the first scene of episode 1, to the full episode 4.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

We were paired with a mentor as part of the early submission process who provided some insightful advice to evolve our application. She also connected us with a few resources for potential partnerships and funding opportunities to pursue. Since we are well into the early innovation stage, our mentor reiterated the importance of now focusing on obtaining more feedback to inform next steps and future development. We have some initial user data and survey responses, but more direct and in-person feedback about the benefits, highlights, and growth opportunities of our app will be really helpful.

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