This sensory communication device could lead to better care and increased comfort for those with the disorder
According to Autism Speaks, more than 3 million people in the United States have autism and tens of millions more worldwide. As much as a half of these people have not developed enough speech to communicate their daily needs, making it difficult for themselves and their caregivers. While the National Institute of Health allocates $169 million a year for Autism research, there is still no cure, and little advancements have been made that might improve communication levels. For industrial designer Jeffrey Brown, who believes all good designs are driven by people and their individual experiences, finding a way to improve communication for people with autism was a challenge worth exploring.
Brown wanted to create something that would work for patients and their families, speech pathologists, educators, and occupational therapists that was safe and durable and would promote independence. What he created is an ergonomic device that uses tactile interaction to provide a sensory diet to those with special needs, as well as gives speech to people on the lower end of the autism spectrum, many of whom have sight difficulties. After realizing that touch, sound, and smell could also communicate an idea, he created a board that has six cubes covered in different textures. The cubes are attached to a form and audio is either downloaded or recorded for each corresponding cube. When the board containing the cubes is turned on, users simply have to squeeze a cube for the audio sound to play, notifying care-givers of desires.
Because likes and dislikes play a big part in comfort levels of those affected by autism, the textures on the board can be individualized so that they are associated with different activities. Therefore, a person with autism would not have to constantly touch a texture they dislike- they could just give that texture an association that they use less often. This kind of in-depth understanding shows how empathetic Brown has become while working on the project, and is likely a key reason to why the design works so well.
Testing proved the device to be effective at home, in school, and in medical centers, indicating that the sensory communication device could catch on. Perhaps one day soon every person who has speech difficulties will have a sensory communication device, resulting in increased comfort and better understanding among people everywhere.