Child’s Play

Competition Details
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LINKX a language-learning toy for autistic children

by Helma van Rijn
Co-authors:

This concept aims to expand the vocabulary of children with a disorder in the spectrum of autism. These children experience things differently than children with ‘typical’ development. They often develop language slowly or not at all. The target group has a developmental age of 1 to 3 years old, although the children’s calendar age is often higher. Almost one percent of the world population has a disorder somewhere in the spectrum of autism. This is a huge group that somehow struggles to keep up in society. A social responsibility lies in including these children in design.

The concept ‘LINKX’ consists of speech-o-grams and interactive blocks. Before play starts, caregivers add speech to speech-o-grams and attach them to corresponding objects. For example, parents record ‘cabinet’ in a speech-o-gram and attach it to the cabinet. By linking blocks with speech-o-grams, a word travels into a block. Each ‘correct’ link makes blocks change their lights and play a word. This rewards children in their language-learning play. Each speech-o-gram has its own colour to enable children to predict which word will be played after a link. Autistic children enjoy this predictability. Three children played with LINKX’ prototype, but all in a different way. For example, one child made blocks ‘kiss’ over and over, while another child collected colours (and thereby words) all the time. Therefore this interaction invites children and parents to ‘invent’ their own games. The concept fits the children in cognitive sense, because caregivers define the content of play. Caregivers can thereby tune the language level of play to the individual child.

The children’s potential served as starting point for design instead of their learning difficulties. In this way design helps to get the best out of the children and let them explore the world in a way they enjoy.