A backpack that applies pressure for children with autism when they are in an overwhelming situation, paired with an application that collects data and alerts the parent or guardian when the backpack is in use.
Ph.D Special Education
After an interview with Carlyn Mueller who has her Ph.D in Special Education from the University of Washington, I came away with a better understanding of the day to day struggles a child with autism might have. She explained what typically causes a meltdown for a child with autism, and how it is difficult to stop them once they start.
A lot of our secondary research came from Temple Grandin, who has autism herself. She is known for creating the pressure machine which helps people with autism feel comfortable. This is where we discovered how important pressure can be in order to remain calm in uncomfortable situations.
"Pressure is calming to the nervous system."
Temple Grandin Key Insights
- Children with autism have pressure seeking behavior
- Deep pressure has a calming affect on children with autism
- Pressure can help with anxiety and meltdowns
- Squeeze machines can "inhibit tantrums"
Carlyn Mueller Key Insights
- Feeling overwhelmed often leads to meltdowns
- Uncomfortable social situations, new environments and sensory overload are all factors
- Meltdowns make the child feel out of control
- Not much can be done once a meltdown has started
- People with autism will often do anything to "escape" meltdowns
One of the most difficult parts of this project was understanding what a child with autism might go through on a day to day basis. As neither my partner nor I have autism, we had to start from scratch with our research and try not to assume anything. When creating our user journey, we took everything we had learned and tried to put ourselves into the shoes of a child with autism.
How Might We?
Help children with autism feel calm in uncomfortable or overwhelming situations?
Provide parents with the peace of mind that their child is safe and not struggling?
Help children with autism feel like they have a safety net?
Help prevent children with autism from having meltdowns?
From our user testing we were able to see several different flaws in our design for the application. The main insights were:
- The bar graphs are too bulky
- The graphs do not tell the user enough information
- The navigation bar does not flow well
When a child begins to feel overwhelmed they can pull a hidden zipper to inflate cushii and apply pressure. The pressure helps the child remain calm to avoid a meltdown.
When cushii has been activated, the parent will get an alert letting them know their child may be experiencing stress, as well as an alert that cushii has been deflated. Data is collected each time cushii is activated, and a GPS tracker allows the parent to see where their child is at all times.
Allows the parent or guardian to track data over time based on activation and deactivation of the backpack. The dropdown menu shows a more detailed version of the information which can be used to track where and when the child is using the backpack. If the backpack is being used in the same place frequently the parent or guardian can use this information to possibly make changes to this location to help the child feel more comfortable.
One problem we found within our research was that children with autism may run away from an overwhelming situation, this is why we added a GPS tracker into the backpack. This helps the parent or guardian feel secure in knowing that if their child goes missing, they will be able to see their exact location, as well as see where their child was when they activated the backpack. As a child grows older and more independent, the settings can be changed to only track location when the pack is activated and deactivated.
Cushii provides push notifications to alert the parent or guardian that the backpack has been activated and deactivated. This provides the parent or guardian with the peace of mind that they will be notified if anything were to occur throughout the day and night.