Apps for Autism: Results from a Bing Fund hackathon

Members of the winning team: Liam Steckler, Paul Steckler, Rebecca Bittner, Dmitry Frenkel, Alex Weinstein, Antoine Atallah

Members of the winning team at the Hackathon for Autism came up with an app to help parents develop an action plan for the initial period after a child has been diagnosed with autism: From left to right: Liam Steckler, Paul Steckler, Rebecca Bittner, Dmitry Frenkel, Alex Weinstein, and Antoine Atallah. Photo: Christine Hart.

Last week we told you about a weekend hackathon, organized by Microsoft’s Bing Fund and community partners, that brought together developers, designers and other experts to come up with technologies to address issues related to autism. So what did they come up with?

A lot. The teams worked on 13 prototypes in all, addressing a range of issues faced by families and kids who are coping with autism.

The winning project, “First 100 Days,” is an app to help parents develop an action plan for the initial period after a child has been diagnosed with autism. For example, in the first week, make an appointment with a pediatrician and connect with specialists. In week two, find a support group and explore treatment options. Checkboxes indicate when a task is done, and the app emails a reminder if the parent falls behind.

Say Ah! Demo

Prototypes included a touch-screen app to help autistic kids get comfortable with the idea of going to the dentist.

“The parents’ world is turned upside down when they get the diagnosis,” explains one of the team members, Alex Weinstein. “There is increasing evidence that early intervention is critical; this feeling of time pressure, combined with lack of knowledge, causes panic and anxiety in parents. The goal for the app was to build on the mountains of useful information created the research community and organizations like Autism Speaks, distilling it into an actionable plan — making it mobile, simple, and prescriptive.”

The winning team consisted of people from a variety of backgrounds and companies, illustrating the diverse makeup of hackathon participants: Weinstein and Dmitry Frenkel lead product development at startup Wetpaint; Antoine Atallah is an engineer at Facebook; Paul Steckler is a technology manager at Amazon; Paul’s son Liam is a student and an aspiring software engineer; Rebecca Bittner is an instructional designer at McGraw-Hill.

Other projects included a Kinect game to help autistic kids recognize and display emotions; a concept for a robotic toy that teaches colors and shapes; and a touch-screen game that helps autistic kids get comfortable with going to the dentist’s office by letting them do a virtual cleaning on screen; among others.

As a next step, organizers are talking with MIT Media Labs about the possibility of a follow-up hackathon on the East Coast later this year.

“We want to refine the model to see how we can scale towards producing tangible results,” says Microsoft’s Aya Zook. “But even from this hackathon alone, we have good leads on getting one or two of the outcomes to receive funding from existing autism groups.”

The event was enough to bring one parent of an autistic child to tears.

“The tears that I shed were those of hope,” writes Karen Kaizuka, president of the Seattle Children’s Autism Guild, in a blog post recapping her experience at the event. ”I was so touched by the selflessness of a community of technologically skilled and devoted souls who gathered together, committed to help a growing community of children diagnosed with autism and their parents.”

People interested in tracking the progress of the projects or getting involved can follow @bingfund #autismhack or bingfund.com/autism.

  • Bricin

    What a great opportunity. Thanks BingFund for setting this up and Autism Speaks for the content. And of course our team for pulling it together.

  • Liz

    bravo Microsoft!