Changing lives

06 September 2012

TOBY Playpad is now available to families affected by autism all over the world.

The TOBY Playpad, the ingenious innovation that will change forever the lives of families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, has now been formally launched.

Symbolising the transcontinental, collaborative approach to the project, this was done at events in Perth in August and Melbourne in September.

As well as Deakin University other major players have been Western Australia’s Curtin University and the Perth-based not for profit organisation, Autism West.

TOBY Playpad is the brainchild of Professor Svetha Venkatesh, now the Director of PRaDA – Pattern Recognition and Data Analytics - at Deakin.

A mix of focussed research and serendipitous discovery it is the type of exciting, life-changing outcome that is the stuff of great research, the reason why researchers seek to dedicate their lives to their work and why clever societies invest in research.

In summary, it is a revolutionary new technology designed to support the learning needs of children with autism and provide support to carers, parents and practitioners, but particularly parents because it makes them therapists, and in a highly structured way.

The software is designed to form a partnership between parent and child and operates via iPad to not only deliver a unique form of engagement through games and tasks, but also a tailored program of activities that mix expanding skills acquisition with the daily lives and experience of children.

The tablet technology made for iPads will cost $100, a fraction of the thousands of dollars many parents of children with autism spend on therapy.

The TOBY Playpad is designed to help families provide early intervention therapy in their own home as soon as their child is diagnosed with autism.

This means children can learn essential life skills even while they are on waiting lists for professional therapy.

About one in 90 children have autism.

The President of Autism West, Silvana Gaglia, said the technology would help families worldwide.

"This is not a game for kids with autism," she said.

"It is a ground breaking application which empowers parents and carers with children who have been diagnosed with the tools to immediately commence therapy activities during the crucial early intervention period."

Mrs Gaglia, whose 15-year-old son has autism, said she had done therapy "the hard way" over many tedious hours.

So far the application targets two to six-year-olds but all money raised from sales will go back into refining software, including programs for older children.

"This has never been about a money-making venture but we know it will revolutionise therapy, not just in Australia, but globally," Mrs Gaglia said.

"At $100, the cost is about one-thousandth of the amount of money many families spend on therapy, which can cost $100 an hour."

Professor Venkatesh said the program would not replace one- on-one therapy but would bring a cost-effective and proved therapy into the home.

"The program is unique and helps the children learn more than 50 skills - things like matching socks - so it makes parents themselves therapists in a structured way," she said.

"The results in the trials were great. This is a fantastic outcome."

Deakin's Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander (far right) introduces the TOBY Playpad. Deakin's Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander (far right) introduces the TOBY Playpad at the Melbourne launch.

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