There is still much about autism we do not understand, however, as it becomes increasingly prevalent, measures to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life for those diagnosed become more and more important. Mental and social disorders, while often not as outwardly apparent as physical handicaps, can be equally debilitating, especially for young children, and this year we saw a concerted effort from designers to address the unique challenges faced by those on the autism spectrum. Below are a few honored 2016 Core77 Design Awards projects designed specifically as a means to make life more comfortable for children living with autism.
The Jam Blocks may be used by two children. In this context, the same social communication skills of eye-contact, turn-taking and joint attention can be developed through the musical games. Working prototype, based on the block form.
Jam Blocks were created in an effort to allow parents and other children to more effectively communicate with autistic children through the principles of music therapy. Each set of Jam Blocks are programmed with several music-centered games, which the child can play with family or friends. The idea beyond the blocks is to facilitate interaction and promote eye-contact, turn taking, and emotional recognition—basic social skills that can often be more difficult for children with autism. As the designer, Ciarán Duffy states, "[Jam Blocks] allow parents, with no musical background, to have a 'musical bond' with their own child. Such bonds are very beneficial for early-attachment which is crucial in helping children with autism learn to communicate".
Air bladders inside the backpack straps, provide deep compression in these key areas. Compress Pack is designed to give users a private way to reduce anxiety.
Compress Pack is a wearable device designed to soothe autistic children when faced with anxiety-provoking situations in public and also doubles as a backpack. While the feeling of being restricted can often have calming effects for autistic children, these same children often dislike physical contact, which can make the act of constriction extremely difficult when a trusted adult, such as a parent, is not present. Compress Pack solves this problem by allowing the child to constrict themselves in a vest that is cleverly concealed as a backpack. Project designer Mitch Barbon describes that Compress Pack was designed "to specifically target the anxieties that come from transitional periods related to school, and attending class".
Pooki provides children, in particular Autistic children, with an engaging product that will aid them in emotional, social or cognitive development. Understanding that all children are different, Pooki is designed with customization in mind. Utilizing an ambiguous form, children are encouraged to rotate and play with the form that they feel most comfortable with.
In creating Pooki, designer Tina Dinh set out to address the often overlooked fact that the autism spectrum is exceedingly broad, and the needs, treatments and challenges for children that fall within the spectrum are diverse and never uniform. Keeping this in mind, Pooki was designed to be a customizable toy that could be shaped to adhere to the specific needs of individual children, in order to achieve a desired level of comfort. Extensive research was conducted to ensure Pooki's aesthetics, dimensions, and materials could appeal to as many children as possible, while Pooki's 'blank' face helps with social, cognitive and emotional development. Tina further explains her research methodology: "Taking into consideration the factors that can affect the experience a child has when interacting with a toy, by using methods such as body storming, user profiling, and even just simply giving my prototypes to children, I was able to tease out the nuances and details that make a toy worth playing with."