Have you ever felt isolated? Alone? Unable to communicate with the people around you?
Now imagine that isolation was a normal part of your life - something that you and your family had to deal with every day. With 1 in 68 children now born on the autistic spectrum, there are millions who face communications and sensory challenges as a matter of course.
The education system works with these students to help them to exercise their cognitive, as well as their physical, functions every day. But these exercise routines often become repetitive and as a result students feel demotivated and isolated. Again, imagine your own motivation levels when you have to engage in repetitive activities.
So, during the past few years, we've seen growing efforts to make training fun and inclusive. There has been increasing evidence that therapist designed games and musical expression can distract from pain and fatigue and encourage participation in exercises. In fact, recognising their social, educational and expressive benefits, NESTA predicted that in 2016 doctors would subscribe computer games to their patients.
Social enterprise Filisia is trying to tackle this challenge by combining technology, games and music into one motivating, connected system.
Filisia is made up of designers, artists and engineers who want to unleash the creative potential of children with Special Education Needs. They have developed Monoma, a modular connected device designed to help students train their academic, communication and motor skills through play and storytelling.
Monoma is a set of tactile controllers that use dynamic sensors which light up and can take any colour. They connect wirelessly with Monoma software which creates a series of musical exercises and interactive games, designed by therapists, special teachers and artists to support engagement, sensory integration, expression and socialisation.
When it comes to people with additional needs, everyone has their unique set of needs and abilities. Filisia addresses this by offering full customisation of the hardware and software and numerous activities, so users can pick what suits them best.
Educators can also track students progress and evaluate their own practice using data on reaction times, memory skills, speed and force. It also uses machine learning to adapt to the the comfort zone of the student and always push them a little further. Monoma isn't there to replace educators but complement their practice, save up time and provide intelligent insights.
Filisia are currently doing control trials with the University of Birmingham and trialing Monoma with Goldsmith's University and Mencap, the leading organisation for people with learning difficulties. But it is the user feedback that perhaps resonates best. Here is what David Shiel, music therapist at the Garden School in London says about it.
Monoma is great for students with autism who are more visual learners, as it incorporates sound and light and it is immediate, without requiring any verbal explanation. It is very simple, but the activities develop it into something complex to support expression and multimodal learning.
It turns out these systems are not just fun and relevant for children with disabilities. As schools are becoming more accessible to all students these school are developing good practice in inclusive technology which turn out to help students of all abilities to learn, express themselves and connect to others. Invariably, when we design something that can be used by people with disabilities, we usually make it better for everyone.
Balancing aesthetics and accessibility with fun, data driven and tangible learning is the future of special education. You can directly support these pioneers, Filisia, through their crowdfunding campaign here on crowdcube or find out more at filisia-interfaces.com