autism hackathon 2018

On the 28/29th April we held our inaugural event – an ideation and hackathon that explored potential digital solutions for 4 core challenges – sleep, concentration, anxiety

doctors, teachers, or therapists, and emotional cues. Over 50 people from all sorts of backgrounds attended – over 10% were autistic, a further 15% were involved directly with autism as

we were pretty much 50/50 men and women, had developers, creatives and everyone from an 18 year old A-level student through to a 60-something year old businessman.

We will be holding more events but have nothing scheduled at the moment.  Please subscribe to get informed.


How can we help autistic children to focus their attention?

Autistic children can find it particularly hard to concentrate on activities that don’t interest them – for example, tasks that involve shared attention (like reading a book with a parent or teacher), turn-taking games, or even walking safely across the road. They may also find it hard to switch attention between different stimuli or demands. Conversely, they often have the ability to focus intently and for prolonged periods on activities that do interest them – for example, a child who enjoys Minecraft might become totally absorbed in extending their world for hours at a time.

For autistic children that struggle moving from one activity to the next, CONTEXT is an app + wearable solution that highlights when a change in context is coming up, e.g. moving from a class on programming to lunch.

The child, parent, carer or teacher enters the schedule in the app at the beginning of the day. 15 minutes before the each activity, the child is notified via a haptic response from their wearable. A timer then counts down to the next activity. Wearables are customisable and come in different formats so that those that don’t like wearing a watch can still use the solution.

How can we help autistic children and adults to recognise emotional cues in near-real time?

Autistic people often have trouble identifying and responding to other people’s emotions in a ‘neurotypical’ way. Their approach may be unconventional and appear one-sided. This reflects their difficulty with ‘cognitive empathy’ – the ability to read facial expressions, tone of voice and other non-verbal cues in the subtle, fast-moving and sophisticated way that is expected. They may appear insensitive or unusual as a result, despite often having a strong instinctive sense of how others are feeling (‘affective empathy’). Their neurotypical communication partners also find it hard to empathise with the autistic person’s experience and style of communication. This can lead to confusion and misunderstanding on both sides. This is known as the ‘double empathy’ problem.

For anyone that feels they need more support recognising emotions, EMOTO-COACH is a gamified emotional recognition brain training app.

Emoto-Coach has two modes, ‘learn’ and ‘play’. In the ‘learn’ mode, individuals can either look at a picture of a face, and navigate to a description of the emotion, or they can start with a word that describes an emotion and navigate to a picture of a face showing that emotion. In the ‘play’ mode the individual is played a video of a scenario and asked to say which emotions are being shown.

For a parent who suspects their child may have difficulties recognising emotional cues, E-MOTION is a diagnostic tool that provides an indication of whether or not the parent should seek further professional advice.

E-motion has a range of increasingly difficult levels: starting with recognition of five basic emotions, progressing through empathising with those emotions, to being able to understand and articulate synonyms and antonyms for the different emotions. Depending on scores, E-motion either recommends seeking professional advice, or, recommends carefully curated interventions that the parent/s can try before retesting.

For autistic adults that need help preparing for different social situations, PREPPY is a gamified app and chat bot that guides and supports an individual through the potential outcomes of a situation, allowing them to emotionally prepare and cope with different conclusions.

Some social situations, such as asking someone out on a date, are extremely stressful and an autistic person. Prior to asking someone out for a date, an individual can use Preppy to walk through all the different outcomes that may occur as they go through a conversation with the person they want to ask out. This allows them to emotionally prepare for all the different situations. After the event, the Preppy chatbot can be there to help support, or manage stress, anxiety or upset.

For autistic children who suffer from severe anxiety issues and/or meltdowns, CIAO is a AI-powered wearable that monitors for the physiological signs of an impending anxiety attack or meltdown. It can be configured to provide notifications and tips to the child, parents and carers and parents/carers could access information via an app dashboard.

Ciao collects physiological and environmental data about the child and the child’s environment. Overtime it uses feedback from the child, parents and carers to learn the individual child’s patterns and to provide preemptive notifications of an impending meltdown. Notifications would be provided haptically, and tips such as taking deep breaths, or moving to a different location/setting would be provided on the screen of the child’s wearable, or via push-notifications to parents/carers.

How can we help autistic children and adults to manage their anxiety?

Anxiety is a real issue for many autistic individuals. It can occur for a range of reasons – unexpected changes, new social situations, sensory processing issues. Autistic people vary in their ability to cope with anxiety. Sometimes it is possible to remove triggers and therefore reduce anxiety; at other times anxiety can lead to a variety of psychological and physical symptoms (e.g. difficulty concentrating; thinking persistently about the worst outcome; difficulty sleeping; meltdowns, shutdowns or regressions; physical pain and exhaustion)

For autistic children that struggle with anxiety, BUDDY BOT is a friendly chat bot that is there at stressful moments to provide support and coping mechanisms.

A small change in routine, such as the milk being placed in the bowl before the cereal at breakfast time, might be very upsetting. Buddy Bot asks how the child is feeling and suggests activities that Buddy Bot knows the child finds calming – playing music or video, suggesting playing a favourite game, or, if required, contacting a nominated parent/carer.

For autistic adults and children that struggle with anxiety, TAP-TAP are AI-powered headphones that monitor physiological variables to preempt anxiety and then use music to manage stress before it becomes overwhelming.

Sensors within over-ear headphones collect information on blood pressure, heart-rate, and muscle/jaw tension. Based on either ‘learned’ patterns, or when promoted by the wearer, the headphones would play music from a favourite playlist. If helpful, the wearer would be encouraged to ‘tap-tap’ the headphones in time with the music, offering a further calming mechanism.

How can we help autistic children to sleep better?

Many people have sleep issues but for autistic children, sleeping is often particularly problematic. Irregular and insufficient sleep can result in daytime sleepiness, learning problems and behavioural issues such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness and behaviour that concerns their parents and carers – not to mention the indirect impact on the sleep of other family members.

For anyone who suffers from sleep difficulties, SOMNIFY is an AI-powered wearable that combines automatically collected physiological variables with user-generated experiential and mood data to track and help improve sleep.

Somnify collects information on the quality and quantity of sleep, how active the user is and what they eat while they’re awake, the temperature and humidity of the sleeping environment, physiological information, and user-generated information on mood. Somnify uses a deep neural-network to process this data and provides a variety of notifications and recommendations to help the individual improve their sleep.

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