Project: Inclusive Multi-Sensor Platform for Autistic Kids that Encourages Social Interaction
According to Chasson G., Jarosiewicz S.R. (2014) Social Competence Impairments in Autism Spectrum Disorders. In: Patel V., Preedy V., Martin C. (eds) Comprehensive Guide to Autism. Springer, New York, NY, children on the autism spectrum vary enormously from each other but they all have impaired social interaction skills of one kind or another. A big difference can be made using technological support for improving social interaction among autistic and special needs children. This proposal seeks to provide an inclusive multi-sensory space development that encourages active engagement through motion. The project will give kids with special needs the opportunity to influence and interact with other children through movement, exploration and collaboration in an edutainment and safe environment.
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be targeted
GOAL 4 – Quality Education: Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to creating sustainable development. In addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems. A build and upgrade of educational facilities within local communities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all is the backbone of this proposal.
GOAL 10 – Reduced Inequalities: To reduce inequalities, policies should be universal in principle, paying attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalised populations. This project seeks to address social inequalities within the community where children with special needs have been marginalised from having a positive interactive relationship with others, proactively explore the world around them and gaining social awareness and self-control skills.
Target Community, Needs, Technology and Expected Outcomes
Location: This project lead by Eduardo Audiche (firstname.lastname@example.org) seeks to address the lack of sensory occupational therapy and very limited speech and language therapy in the county of Essex – United Kingdom. According to the latest available Indices of Deprivation (Source: The English Indices of Deprivation 2015) the most deprived neighbourhood in England is located in Essex – Clacton on Sea (Jaywick), and this was also the most deprived neighbourhood according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010. Jaywick is recorded as the most deprived of all 32,844 neighbourhoods in England.
Institution: For this project, a well-known charity in the region called Stepping Stones Play and Learn Group has been selected (https://www.steppingstonesplayandlearn.org/). This small charity is based in Colchester, Essex in an area which is recognised as economically-deprived (four neighbourhoods in Colchester are among the 10% most deprived in the country. The main service of Stepping Stones is an integrated nursery for children with additional needs and also main-streamers, aged 2 – 5 to play, learn and develop alongside each other. The charity also run a weekly Tots Group for babies with special needs, After School and Holiday Clubs for school aged children age 5 -18 with complex needs and a monthly Family Stay & Play session. The Group therefore supports children/young people aged from 0 – 18. Stepping Stones is a registered charity and non-profit making group.
Stepping Stones is open five days a week and children attend full days depending on the child’s individual needs and parental aims. The institution has a very high staff ratio as children with additional needs have a one-to-one key worker which enables them to access the activities in the group. They work with outside agencies e.g. physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists. The charity teaches all children the Makaton signing and use visual communication tools. The children’s needs range from children with Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down Syndrome, various syndromes which result in developmental delay and limited lifespan, sensory impairments and children with little or no language skills. They have children who are hydrocephalic or who are terminally ill and some who present challenging behaviours. Some children are tube fed, they administer drugs and can manage catheters. Just under half of nursery children have additional needs. Their ethos is to create an environment enabling all children to enjoy developing to their full potential. Mainstream children learn to be non-judgemental and accepting of those with differences. Many of their mainstream children have support needs related to their social circumstances.
Stepping Stones also hold After School and Holiday Clubs for 5 to 18 years old. The children that attend have very complex and challenging needs which could not be met at any other respite setting. These groups are limited to ten children/young people with eight staff, this enables them to play, relax and enjoy activities together, access outside community activities such as swimming & bowling and, practice independence at their own pace. They offer much needed respite to parents through the long school holidays. This also enables parents to give siblings individual time as often their lives must fit round the needs of their brother or sister, so these sessions benefit the entire family. Stepping Stones also offer a monthly Saturday Stay & Play session on a Saturday where the whole family can attend, play and relax in a safe environment free from judgement, mixing with other families who experience similar challenges.
Project Duration and Timeline: The project has one-year duration. After the equipment is delivered (4-6 weeks from the time of the order) two training sessions by OM Interactive will have place after three months of getting the system so all staff involved will have time to get use to the equipment.
A group of IEEE a non-IEEE volunteers and expert from University of Essex will be involved during project progress monitoring the results during the first year so expected outputs can be measured and shared with other institutions / schools / NGOs interested in replicate the initiative.
Equipment delivery and installation: 4-6 weeks after PO
Staff training: 3 months after equipment set. (2 sessions one in week 12 and the other one in week 14)
Outcomes review & corrective actions after 6 months
Outcomes review, corrective actions review & conclusions after 12 months
Technology: Research was carried out in order to find the best supplier who can meet Special Education Needs (SEN). After a comprehensive comparison, it was found OM Interactive was the best provider with 14 years’ experience developing their products and technology. OM Interactive was the first company to introduce interactive projections into the field of Sensory Education in 2005. OM Interactive manufacture mobile or fix projectors with motion-activated sensory technology. They offer an autistic pack with more than 200 applications that can be programmed according to the children needs and curriculum expectations. With this product they have been awarded with the following prizes:
- “The Memory Lane Award” within the Outstanding Care Awards for Devon & Cornwall 2019
- “Best Equipment / Product Award” within the Annual Care Home Awards 2019
- “Outstanding Dementia Product” within the 9th National Dementia Care Awards 2018
- “Pioneers in Technology Award” within Dementia, Care & Nursing Home Expo Awards 2018.
OM Interactive supports he National Autistic Society, Cancer Research UK and Dementia UK.
Consultation: A demonstration from OM Interactive was set at Steeping Stones premises. For this demo a group of parents / carers were invited along with their children in order to receive their feedback about the equipment performance, understand scope / implications and give the charity the opportunity to check and decide the configuration / package that best suits the venue.
The following questions were asked in a survey:
- Is there any similar tool available in our local community?
- Is there a need for sensory input and communication with your child?
- If this equipment were available, would you use it?
100% of the surveys stated that there is no similar tool available despite of the need for sensory input and communication within the special need’s children. Also 100% of the surveys confirmed they are keen to have access to this technology. The feedback received was very positive with plenty of questions about when this will be implemented and ready to be used.
Additionally, parents were asked about their experience with Occupational Therapy (OT) and Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) services provided by NHS in Essex. The common answer received was that is very difficult to access to those services and when a child gets a referral the services are limited. NHS in Essex doesn’t attend children under the age of 3 with communication and developmental delay.
In North Essex (Colchester) where Stepping Stones is situated the statutory services have been reduced dramatically over the last decade. Stepping Stones as an independent charity has supported parents and children through these changes and tried to fill the gaps where possible. With the reduction of early intervention by statutory agencies it has been seen a growing number of children with multi-sensory disorders that are going untreated.
There is currently no statutory sensory Occupational Therapist in North Essex. There are also very limited resources within the Speech and Language department with children not being seen till they are three and then may only be seen 3 times a year. This level of input is not conducive with satisfactory outcomes for the children.
With the use of the interactive projector Stepping Stones would be able to engage with these children through non-invasive interaction, enabling them to respond to learning programs at a level they feel comfortable with. Also, they would be able to stimulate areas of learning with children with processing difficulties as they would control their level of interaction. The equipment would be used by all ages for both learning and relaxation. The building is completely accessible and unused at weekends so could be used by other local groups.
Stepping Stones is situated in a building attached to the local Adult Learning College. The College facilitates about 100 adults with learning difficulties over the year. The interactive projector could be accessible to these learners in the evening or at weekends.
Project Objectives: The outcome from using this technology would be to create an inclusive multi-sensory space that encourages active engagement through motion for all children, with or without disabilities, within this deprived area improving their cognitive development, making it available for the whole family and wider community. Using the projector with different programs it can be tailored it to the children’s needs in regards of OT and SALT. Also, it is expected that use of the technology will:
- Develop a sense of security and levels of engagement through building positive relationships
- Develop an awareness of the world around them through sensory exploration
- Develop the physical skills through which they can control and explore their environment
- Establish behaviours through which they can express their feelings, make choices and communicate with other people
- Experience life within the community, responding to other people and sharing activities with them
- Develop communication skills in speech, gesture, and sign or symbol so that they can interact with other people, make choices, follow instructions and explanations and access the key concepts needed for learning
- Learn to co-operate with other people, to build positive relationships and to take responsibility for themselves
- Learn the skills which will help them be more independent in adult life
- Learn about the world around them and the wider community
All staff working on Stepping Stones are committed with this project as this technology will facilitate in many different ways the traditional methods used by them to develop social interaction, provide occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.
Stepping Stones do not follow a rigid plan and this has contributed towards the success of the group. It has always been parent led and services have developed and changed around the children needs and their families. Parents and carers play an important role in the way the nursery operates as their involvement in meetings and surveys ensure the maximum outcomes are achieved. This advantage will be extrapolated to OM Interactive technology deployment.
Participation of IEEE volunteers and University of Essex will be related to monitoring results through outcomes verification and bringing support to Stepping Stones in the creation of the customisable apps that can include their own images and inputs.
The system is not intelligent enough to keep a track of kids performance using the equipment. The way to collect data is through a manual filled form where the staff will add date, children range age, apps used, how long they are on them and what they have achieved. Stepping Stones has confirmed they will keep records as they usually do this for all activities within their programme. IEEE volunteers will analyse the data collected to produce reports that will help to better understand any relations between apps used and its output. The data analysis also will help in giving inputs for customisable apps apart from sustainability and scalability of the project.
Experience gained across daily sessions including cases of good practice, which illustrate and analyse the situations encountered, the problems faced, and the solutions found will be documented. In such reports considerable attention will be given to the support factors which have helped outcomes to be achieved. On a regular basis, sessions will be video recorded, and photos taken. The purpose of this documentation is to help this project to be escalated and replicated in other centres / schools and even NHS premises.
In order to promote a replication of this initiative it is paramount to keep documented key aspects and lessons learnt. These aspects are very important in achieving an impact. For example:
- Outcomes achieved
- Obstacles & issues overcome
- The role played by IEEE volunteers
- The influence of Stepping Stones Staff in keeping parents & carers engaged
- The use of customised apps and its results
The potential to replicate and scale this initiative worldwide is significant.
On October 8th the IEEE SIGHT Projects Committee awarded this project with a funding amount of USD $9,815.00.