“One evening, sitting in my mother’s dental clinic, I met a boy, roughly my age. I was intrigued by his confidence and attitude towards life. It was later that I learnt that he had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This brief interaction compelled me to research and learn more about his disability,” says Shruti Kakar, a 17-year-old Delhiite, who has developed an app to help those with ASD, communicate better.

Kakar, a student of class 12 at Springdales School in Dhaula Kuan, says she came up with the idea for the app, called We Can Express, about a year ago. But, it was the pandemic induced closure of physical classes at school that led this athlete miss her routine, and spend more time in fine tuning the app. “After initial hiccups, I finally struck a balance between my online classes and working on the app. In the last few months, I conducted webinars to explain the app to people and incorporated changes, including a special section on the app that has icons related to Covid-19 pandemic that has masks!”

The app has customisable icons with colours and images that can help those with autism express their thoughts better.

“Last year I volunteered at my school’s inclusive education centre, and worked with children who are on the autism spectrum. The experience helped me understand the needs of these individuals. Many of the people on the spectrum have issues in communicating; they are often dependent on caretakers. I decided that I had to do something to enable the autistic people to be able to communicate with ease. That’s how came up the idea of developing an app with visual cues, to help those with ASD interact with others,” explains Kakar.

A year of extensive research, extra hours, and support of her family and school is what went into making this app see the light of day. “Everyone around me, including my parents and teachers were extremely supportive of the idea, and helped me at every step of the journey. I spoke to experts in the field, and did in-depth research on what people with ASD would be comfortable to use, before starting work on this,” says Kakar, who learnt coding, to make the application.

“The app can help overcome their biggest fears , accomplish some of the daily life activities and navigate social challenges such as going to a salon or for coffee.”

“The focus is on visual communication. There are customisable icons with colours and images that can help autistic individuals express their thoughts,” says Kakar, sharing how the app stores and records information of their behaviours, emotions and preferences. “This app works on a multi-platform interface, and can help the users overcome their biggest fears to accomplish some of the daily life activities, which often become challenging for those with ASD. It can also help in navigating social challenges such as going to a salon or for coffee etc,” she adds.

So far, the app has received a positive feedback, and is currently being used at Saath-Saath centre in her school, and at the Mumbai-based Om Creations Trust, which works towards education and rehabilitation of differently-abled women. “After my board exams, I plan to pursue a career in computer science, and take up software development and machine learning, but I haven’t locked that down just yet,” says the young gun who certainly has a plan on her mind!

Author tweets @bhagat_mallika

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