LOLA is an acronym for Laugh Out Loud Aid--a funny digital tool that sends the user reminders to train your brain with social and daily living skills. The concept for the app was developed by a kid (and his father) who is a student with Aspergers and is part of the Tech Kids Unlimited community. TechKidsUnlimited.org (TKU) is a 501c3 education organization which teaches technology to youth who learn differently. For the past few years, TKU has partnered with NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering where its Founder, Beth Rosenberg is on the faculty of the Integrated Digital Media Department (and is a parent of a teen on the autism spectrum). On Sundays, school vacations and during the summer, TKU teaches 21st century tech skills to kids with differences through project-based learning. The profiles of the students range from: autism spectrum disorder, ADD/ADHD, learning and emotional disabilities, sensory integration disorder, auditory processing disorder, etc. The mission of TKU is to train the techies of tomorrow to get them gainfully employed in the field of technology. Students learn website creation, app development, video editing, stop motion animation, 3d printing, programming and more. Tech Kids Unlimited is the only technology program in the U.S. whose constituency is solely special needs students ages 7 to 18.
At the Connectability Hackathon in April 2015, all TKU students were given the opportunity to participate in the hackathon weekend along with TKU teachers, TKU counselors, the TKU Founder and the TKU Program Manager. Seth and Greg Truman (son and father) came to the challenge with a specific problem: individuals on the spectrum have difficulty with social situations and forget important daily living skills.
Seth described how it was annoying to hear the constant reminder by his parents and teachers to "give people personal space" or to "say Hi when meeting people." The dad, Greg Truman is a former writer for the Australian hit television show, "The Wiggles" and believes that humor is really the best medicine for teaching and remembering. It was with this idea--reminders, daily living skills and social issues that LOLA was born.
Social and emotional solutions are key for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At the 8th Annual UJA Hilibrand Autism Symposium in April 2015 at the UJA Federation of NY, Executive Director at the University of North Carolina's TEACCH Program, Professor Laura Klinger PhD, cited that one of the most important factors to consider in terms of success for employment for ASD individuals over 21 is the mastery of daily living skills along with social skills. This was the leading contributor of success for individuals with ASD.
Many individuals have a hard time with social skills and with daily living skills. At a review of the LOLA app with the exemplars at NYU Poly on June 2, 2015, many noted that the app was a funny and simple way to help anyone who needed additional "soft skills" remediation. Soft skills is a term often associated with a person's "EQ" (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, interpersonal skills, managing people, leadership, etc. that characterize relationships with other people. In an email to Paul Kotler's mom from TKU Founder Beth Rosenberg, Melinda Kotler, asked her to ask Paul his thoughts about the app. Melinda emailed that Paul typed: "Laughing makes it a better tool since nagging isn’t effective. The humor would need to be specific to the person." Many people with ASD have difficulty with soft skills but they aren't alone, as this can also affect individuals who have other disabilities such as vision or mobility impairment as well.
To encourage TKU's user to become involved in the creation of the content of images for LOLA, TKU held a Sunday workshop on June 14, 2015 where 15 students learned how to create an animated gif. They were given a tech lesson and were asked to come up with a daily living skill or social skill that they needed help with. Once the eight challenges were decided upon, the students spent the next part of the workshop creating the animated gifs. While this database of humor-filled teaching images was created, the app was designed and implemented by a grad student at NYU Poly with help from TKU's program manager (an NYU Poly alumni).
At this point, LOLA is in its first iteration. The plans are to release this much-needed app at the end of August and include a bigger database which TKU students will continue to create in our summer workshops. In addition, the LOLA team would like to develop the following for the app:
- a way for users to create and generate their own content and upload it;
- the implementation of a behavior reward chart;
- a possible "share" or "like" on social media platforms;
- a team administrator log-on and tracking.
LOLA is unique in that it uses humor for learning. LOLA is an app that could become useful for anyone---just like curb indentations are on the sidewalk! Individuals with disabilities who need help with social and emotional skills will benefit from using LOLA. In turn, all people will want to see what they are laughing about on their phone and will ultimately join in the fun. The possibilities for LOLA are unlimited--just like the Tech Kids who created it.