Abu Zubair’s son, Zurrar has autism. Like so many other children with autism, Zurrar has difficulty with fine motor skills. The solution that the two came up with may end up helping many more children than either of them could have predicted.
Children with autism may encounter issues with some of their fine motor skills for several reasons. Often, they can’t stay focused long enough to practice, or one single task can’t stand out among the overwhelming sea of stimulation that they constantly receive from the environments around them. To counter the problems with developing fine motor skills, it is common to partake in “occupational therapy” which are typically activities like picking up small objects repeatedly or sorting items.
Simply placing a bowl full of buttons in front of a child and asking them to sort them could be considered a great activity for practicing those fine motor skills of pinching and separating. However, even this may suffer from the constant distractions.
Zubair came up with the idea to add light and sound to these activities to constantly recapture the wandering attention of a child. He created the Arduino powered ZOTTZ or “Z Occupational Therapy ToolZ” and has had great success.
I asked Zubair what advantage his system has over typical occupational therapy activities.
ZOTTZ – is sensory feedback based, fully programmed, and customizable to a particular child’s needs. Over a billion LED combinations, and a tremendous gamut of children’s favorite nursery rhymes can be played by ZOTTZ to stimulate and motivate children to have fun squeezing a scissor, holding a pencil correctly or pressing on pinchers to trigger the sensors so that they get the feedback they love. It’s a toy to children, a desktop therapist, with an embedded powerful Arduino based tool to motivate and help them master critical fine motor skills. It never tires, has an ambience of flashing LED’s to entice the child to interact, develop, learn fine motor skills.
ZOTTZ works because my Autistic son Zarrar(6) helped develop it, and it started with one Led and buzzer tied to an Arduino that would flash and play music when Zarrar gripped it back in the Christmas of 2013. And then his classmates used it, and now slowly the greater world community is starting to use it.
Thanks to a successful kickstarter, these tools are now in use not only in the Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Santa Ana, California, but also in Bangladesh. Even though the campaign is over, you can still purchase one of the devices for $179.
So, what was the toughest part of designing this system? Zubar explains:
Holding an Autistic child’s interest by far has been the hardest part of developing ZOTTZ, his POV, what sensory feedback captivates Zarrar and other Autistic children and keeps him motivated to practice scissors, gripping, pencils was the toughest challenge.