Routine Learning App for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Crescendo aims to provide children with High Functioning Autism, and caregivers with a communication tool.
Crescendo guides carers in teaching and immersing their child in a virtual environment that mimics the real world, helping people with ASD to make sense world and interact with objects and places, in order to become self-reliant in atomized, step-by-step routines.

Work published at IDC '16, June 21-24, 2016, Manchester, United Kingdom
ACM 978-1-4503-4313-8/16/06

Project prompt

Our prompt was to design an application that made use of nowadays technologies to be impactful and valuable for its customer typology, demographics or a customer segment.

Time: 3 weeks | Team: 4 | Role: Expert Researcher (Psychology background)Creative Designer
Tools: Adobe Indesign, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Sketch, InVision
Methods: Rapid Etnography, Focus Groups, Personas & Scenarios, Storyboarding, Wireframing, Speed Dating

Research Process

We began our research with an understanding of autism, associated comorbidities and the autistic spectrum implications, mainly derived from the 2 years of experience working with ASD clients that I had from Thistle Foundation.

With a in-house psychology researcher, our team developed a game that would aid high functioning children, who are able to communicate verbally and have accurate motricity levels, but are not able to fend for themselves at home or in small routinable tasks.

Our focus rapidly scoped into teaching atomizable repetitive tasks, getting the child into the habit of daily routines that would integrate well into their adult lives, by promoting self-reliance.  
The guardian/caregiver is tasked with assistance on supervising the child. Crescendo makes their lives easier as it teaches their child valuable tasks the promote independence and possible emancipation.

Our research phase included contextual inquiry with students/service at autistic centers and support centers, literature review, and a competitive analysis of existing applications. 

​​Research methodologies

We used etnography methodologies for this project, as being immerssed and aware of the user's specificities. To achieve this we used Rapid Etnography tours to Austistc Centers and Support Centers in order to learn and build rapport with both caregivers and educators experts in this delicate area. It also proved to be crucial to have a member with a psychology background (Me) that helped steer and sensibilize the group in this task. Through observation and informal discussion we were able to recruit and identify key players that we wanted to recruit to a Focus Group session.

Focus Group
After identifying key players, and have seeding them some of our ideas and concepts, we promoted and performed a Focus Group session. This was important for us to identify areas where the caregivers feel more stressed with, and what strategies normally develop better outcomes, this was also supported by reviewing current Literature on routine-learning methodologies.

Literature Review
Research shows us that higher functioning autistic children are able to learn and use technological tools very effectively, with special enphasis on tablets, as a valuable tool to improve their communication and daily actions.  We have tested this with a Hands-on activity at the Autism Center (Quinta Olinda, Madeira). We recruited high-functioning volunteers. The task we ask our participants to perform was a simple navigation on YouTube and follow Google Maps instructions.

During the exploratory phase, we narrowed our target population to children who are getting into the habit of daily routines and are able to verbally communicate and function on their own without much assistance. We should then design for this specific population, and create meaningful personas to aid us in this design.

  1. Scribbles from Focus Group session
    Scribbles from Focus Group session


Paulo, young boy with ASD

Paulo's mother

  • 7 years old, lives in Madeira (Portugal)
  • Does not like changes
  • Enjoys space-related topics 
  • Goes to pottery classes
  • Has trouble communicating  and understanding emotions
  • ​Likes to play with puzzles, his tablet and Mr. Little Boots (cat)

  • Challenge 
    • Started school, and needs new morning routine adequate for elementary school
  • Immediate Goal
    • Learn new skills
  • Life Goal
    • ​​Become an astronaut
  • 36, Paulo’s mother
  • Enjoys reading
  • Paulo and her have a pet cat
  • Very patient with Paulo’s needs
  • President of Associação de Pais (PTA)
  • Needs to focus on work to provide for Paulo
  • Feels tired and insecure             

  • Challenge
    • Increasing workload
  • Immediate Goal
    • Prepare Paulo to elementary school
  • Life Goal
    • Get Paulo more independent as he grows up, and build a career in politics

Storyboards & Scenarios

  • Paulo sees little boots calling for food, but is uncertain about the actions he should perform to feed the cat.

  • Paulo notices the message left by his mum on the bowl, suggesting that Paulo plays the adventure about feeding little boots. This should help him remember the routine they went through many times before.

  • Paulo plays “Feed the Cat” mini game and recalls the steps.
    • This is through atomized Virtual Reality that mimics the room or environment where the child is, and aids with the steps that are needed to be taken to achieve it.

  • Paulo can now feed the cat in real life, and can send a message to his mum.
  • Later that day, mum returns from her part-time job, and compliments Paulo on his achievements.

  • Several days later, mum is confident that Paulo has mastered “Feed the Cat” routine, and unlocks/sets a new routine for him.

  • Paulo performs his new routine - “Pour Cereal”.

  • While reading a book, mum receives a notification that Paulo should get ready for pottery class.

  • Mum helps Paulo pack for pottery class and hands him the tablet.

  • Paulo starts off to class with Crescendo’s planned route and virtual map.

  • When following the route Crescendo has laid out, Paulo encounters roadwork. And before he gets too worked out and stressed.

  • Crescendo re-calculates the route, and his Augmented Reality companion assures him that there’s nothing to worry about.

  • Paulo arrives at pottery class. Crescendo detects location change and prompts him to notify his mother.

  • Mum receives the notification.​ Paulo starts class and resumes his project from last time.​​

Lo-FI Mock Ups

  1. Lo-Fi Mockups
    Lo-Fi Mockups

Concept validation

Speed dating

To validade our concepts further, we selected a few participants from our focus groups at Quinta Olinda (Madeira) to hear about the final direction of our solution and, listen from them what other concerns had arised with this new reiterated concept. We used our Storyboards and Scenarios to explain how the technology would work and how that would add value.

The one main concern about Crescendo is that it is recommended for users who are engaging in the process of creating a new routine for their daily lives. As it may pose an unnecessary burden over established, well "oiled" routines in place.

Final products​​

Crescendo has two client applications: the one the child or yound adult with ASD with interact with, and the caregiver app, where they get all guidance, help and tools to stimulate and educate through atomized routinable tasks.

For more information about the technical and developmental approaches/programs that are in use in Crescendo please read the article about it.

Work published at IDC '16, June 21-24, 2016, Manchester, United Kingdom
ACM 978-1-4503-4313-8/16/06

  1. The Experience
    The Experience
    Client app for the ASD child or young adult
  2. The Experience
    The Experience
    Client app for the caregiver
  3. The Experience
    The Experience
    Client app for the ASD child or young adult

Crescendo values...

Our solution is a fun and interactive routine teaching tool for high-functioning autistic children, and an assistive parenting device for the parents. This provides children with a fun, but yet educational application that promotes independence for both child and carer.
The companion application for carers acts as a monitoring device to track the child's whereabouts, progression, and allows the guardian to be present whenever the child needs help completing a specific task.​​

Below you can try a short iteration of both Child and Caregivers's app.