1st Idea: In elementary school, there was an autistic boy in my class for a few years. He was very intelligent, although it was difficult for our class (myself included) to understand him and the way that he conducted himself. I have been interested in getting a better understanding of autism ever since that experience. Over the summer, I found a few articles on autism because I knew it was a potential topic I would be interested in exploring this year. One particular article, “The Truth about Autism,” in Wired Magazine, really sparked my attention. It discussed autism from a relatively unbiased perspective, pointing out the general strengths, capabilities, and weaknesses of the autistic community. The point I found most interesting in the article is that many autistic people have a strong understanding of 3-dimensional form. I felt this would be a great opportunity to develop a product for young children that could push them to exercise this part of their brain. I think this is a viable avenue to explore because it could potentially aid in creating a good life for several autistic people. A few articles have cited that it is very difficult for autistic people to work in regular jobs. I think that autistic people could enter into a broader workforce if they were taught as children exercise their brains’ 3-dimensional capabilities. I found a toy, Robert the Robot Shape Sorter, which is meant to help autistic children develop hand-eye co-ordination, motor skills, and shape/colour awareness. It seems that this toy is somewhat in keeping with what I am interested in, and could be a good jumping off point to investigate further. In terms of collaboration, I would definitely like to interact directly with autistic children in order to gain a better understanding of their condition. I also want to interview/collaborate with individuals that work with autistic children, both directly and indirectly. My next step is to research further into autism so that I can understand the condition better, feeding my design process. I also want to look into various non-profit groups that align with my feelings on the topic.
2nd Idea: The second issue I would like to explore is Alzheimer’s disease. My great grandmother had Alzheimer’s, although that is not really the reason I am interested in exploring it further. I am drawn to the psychology behind human interaction, and am really interested in gaining a further understanding of the effects of memory loss. Alzheimer’s has a devastating effect not only on the person affected with the disease, but also the caregiver(s) involved – usually close family/friends. It is an extremely taxing disease financially, and has been shown to increase risk of depression in caregiver(s). I would like to help strengthen the bond between patient and caregiver, in hopes of boosting the spirits and general well-being of both parties. My initial design idea is an interface between the two parties. The caregiver could provide reminders/updates, and the patient could respond/add their own input. I think this has potential to improve the lives of both people involved - it could help the patient to remember basic daily tasks, people, places, etc, boosting self-confidence and decreasing irritability/frustration. The caregiver could help in this process, while also receiving direct feedback from the patient. I looked around for some products already on the market, and found several that help those with Alzheimer’s remember basic things. One example is the memory phone – users can place names/images of their contacts on the phone so they can use both a photo and a name to jog their memory. In terms of collaboration, I would like to work with Alzheimer’s patients, caregivers, and those that understand the disease well. My next step in the process will be identifying a non-profit that I can collaborate with, as well as learning more about the disease.