Note: A MaRS client, Squag is an online social space where kids with autism can build ideas about themselves to share with their parents and peers. This post originally appeared on the Autism Speaks website. It has been reposted here with permission from the author.
I have a spectacular twelve-year-old nephew on the autism spectrum. I’ve been his aide for over a decade (both at home and at school), and have been gifted with the incredible opportunity to be with him both within the context of family, and within his daily school life.
One day, we were out on the playground. There had been a skirmish at recess, and he was very upset. I encouraged him to type a note to his parents on my BlackBerry to articulate how he was feeling. I was completely astounded by the level of sophistication he was showing in expressing himself in this way. I realized in that moment that I had been underestimating him, and if I was underestimating him, who else in his immediate community was and what opportunities was he missing out on as a result?
I started to think about using technology to bring about mindfulness, and the doors that could open for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other different abilities.
I figured there should be a piece of software for kids like “Leo” that wasn’t therapy and wasn’t gaming, but somewhere in between; something that took his communication style and sensory processing into consideration and made it safe for him to communicate not only with parents and peers, but with himself!
I spoke to my family, and in a leap of faith (a big one) we decided to build it ourselves.
After two years of building, rebuilding, testing and retesting, we launched SquagTM – a curated playground for kids with autism to build ideas about themselves.
For parents, it’s a new and exciting way to connect with their kids, and to adopt technology together in a social and creative space.
For kids, it’s a way to interact with technology in their downtime, after a long day at school, that isn’t about gaming, clicking or swiping, but about self-reflecting and encoding confidence. Kids love looking in the mirror (private webcam) and taking pictures of themselves to post in their scrapbook. Some like to record their day in their journals, while others love to watch videos from our library to validate their special interests. All of them love receiving positive messages from their parents when they arrive in their SquagpadsTM.
A few other things we’ve learned from our testers:
Social media has changed the game for parents and self-advocates living life with ASD. Together we can offer the same self-discovery to kids with autism to come, play and be heard.