Aiko and Egor was born when the founders worked with autistic children at U.C. San Diego’s Autism Intervention Program. Aiko was the name of the first little girl they worked with who always carried a stuffed purple whale. “Egor” was the first word of another kid.
I discovered Animation For Autism on Jim Turner’s T shirt at the San Rafael Farmers’ Market and inquired about it.
Aiko and Egor is animation software for autistic children ages 2 to 8. It is in the form of short videos with activities related to the video content for kids to practice things like turn taking, naming and drawing shapes, and manners. The videos utilize “embedded pauses” where, using readily available objects, such as favorite foods, a doll, and blocks – even simply paper, on which to draw shapes to identify. In this fashion, the child and a support person practice skills introduced in the video.
I wondered what makes the Aiko and Egor animations different from any other aimed at “normal” kids.
Let me imbed a pause here to provide a little background on my experience with animation and, especially, children’s animation of any type – little to none; I am a non-fiction type.
As a former autistic child myself, now firmly ensconced in autistic adulthood, I do not share my peers’ fascination with such fare as “Sesame Street”, “Fraggle Rock” and “The Muppets”; I found – and still find- the voices and general frenetic-ness intensely annoying – as a child, I preferred “The Pink Panther” because it had no dialogue.
So, I had my support person and another counselor at Autistry Studios, the program I attend for autistic adults, review the software with me. They both have experience with kids, where I do not.
We started the not quite ten minute long pilot episode, and I was already planning the break I would take a few minutes in – my attention span is very short for watching things on a screen.
Surprisingly, I found myself watching nearly to the end – I had to stop it then to have lunch.
The voices were not annoying, though high pitched, and I really liked that they spoke and moved slowly and with pauses – quick speech and movements often cause me to miss some of the meaning.
I learned later the songs the characters sing are known to many – not me; I did not learn these songs.
Despite this, I actually enjoyed the video.
Next, we tried the interactive exercises. I had a question – what is a “gesture”?
It took me a while to figure out the “red circle” was what appeared to be a pink ball on the doll’s cap, but allow it could be the monitor calibration.
My therapist said this seeming discrepancy could drive some autistics nuts.
I thought the doll should close its eyes when it goes to sleep, and “Is it my birthday? I love crab cakes!” was confusing and a bit creepy.
Overall, I love Aiko and Egor and would recommend it to anyone with kids – not just autistic kids.
I wish there was material like this when I was a kid, but I guess it is never too late!