What is it?
CALEN3DAR aims to help children with higher functioning autism to prepare for and learn from their everyday activities. The calendar consists of nine individual drawer modules. Seven represent each weekday; every weekday consists of four drawers. There is also a time and a reward indicator.

The drawers can be designed to best meet the needs of the child, e.g. record social stories, show pictures or icons, store objects, rate a certain event, show progress in the form a rewards or as a tool for storytelling. However, the design can easily be adjusted and used by any child.

Who is it for?
Children with autism and their parents.

Why is it valuable?
Typically people with autism need to prepare for activities. Some need to be shown exactly what to do at a given time, the duration of the activity and what to do afterwards in order to reduce their stress level. However we focus on the children with higher functioning autism which means that they need to prepare only for the less frequent events, e.g. visiting the grandparents. They also need to learn about social behaviors, such as courtesy.

Everyday is a ‘workday’ for children with autism and their parents. They have to repeat behaviour many times in order to learn, to improve and gain independence. This means that they and their parents have to be able to keep track of their progress. This is usually done by rewarding actions, keeping track of independent actions, and also by constantly re-designing the tools they use in the home – in order to encourage end reinforce the growth of the child’s capabilities.

Some existing tools haven’t changed in about twenty years and therefore the parents have to make their own tools in order to meet the specific and very individual needs of their child. Current tools are usually several A3 sheets of laminated cardboard and small notes with icons or pictures taped on e.g. a calendar, a ‘people I know’ chart and a rating of activities – these are showcased on the walls in the home. The parents find these tools absolutely necessary but very unattractive and somewhat inefficient and outdated.

We have aimed to meet the need for flexibility, growth and individualisation while making the design more of a piece of furniture, a part of the interior of the home instead of a temporary solution.

Our prototype consists of nine individual modules which can be mounted on a wall like a bookcase. Each weekday module has room for four drawers with changeable fronts one can write on the drawer or chose to show a picture or an icon by using the transparent front. It is also possible to ‘program’ the drawers by using the slits inside the drawers to store pictures or use transparent pictures creating a 3D picture as a storytelling tool.

You can record a social story in the drawer for preparing the child before visiting their grandparents, e.g. the drawer with a picture of the grandparents will play, when opening the drawer: ‘Hi Honey, remember to say hello when grandma’ and grandpa’ opens the door’. The child can bring the drawer by placing a lid over the drawer and thereby rehearse on the way to the grandparents. The drawer can also be used to store objects reminding the children of a situation or an activity, since they typically have problems with abstract thinking and therefore link the abstract to the tangible. The drawer can be used to store pictures, lists, crayons or figurines, e.g. “Remember this puppet you got when we visited granddad last time”?

How does it work?

In the prototype, three of the drawers can store audio – in reality all the drawers should be able to record and play sound. On the bottom of the drawer there is two buttons; record and delete. A light sensor inside the drawer works as a play button – hence when opening an audio drawer the sound will automatically play.

What were your key learnings?
We learned that when designing a TUI for people with autism it is important to define which group of autisms to design for. We learned that people with a more severe case of autism will need a somewhat different product than the one we have designed.

Our target group would need a lot of time to learn a new system and it is very sensitive to try to develop solutions that are too radical or too different compared with what they know – learning takes time which calls for a lot of patience and can result in a heightened stress level for the child.

We realised early on that parents and caretakers develop amazing rapid prototyping skills – they need to know what works for the children in different situations and the tools needs to be improved or adjusted as they learn the specific task. A powerful quote that was very helpful in grasping the field was: “If it works for him, it works for me!” (Thomas Vibe Hansen, caretaker at Sofiehøj).

We learned that co-creation was key to understanding the needs of ¬– and being able to design for – this target group. Initially we thought that it might be close to impossible to make a useful design in such a short amount of time within this area. However, with tangible prototypes and sessions with caregivers and parents we were able to gain an understanding of their world.

Team Members:
Sarasiff Kjærgård
Mimi Son (Hyunjeong Son)
Nina B. Nygaard Christoffersen

Special thanks to Heather Martin, Vinay Venkatraman, Rasmus Voulund, Tilde Toft, Maria Bodekær Frandsen, Thomas Vibe Hansen & Mona Andersen.