When we talk about autistic children and toys for them, we often associate a specific category called ‘special toys for special children’. It means that there are some toys designed for children with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy or learning disabilities and so on.
Pooki, designed by Tina Tran Dinh, a student of the Monash Art Design & Architecture, is a toy designed for all children, but is particularly attractive to autistic children. The research to bring this project alive is started from the study of autism and all the characteristics and problematics of this disability. When we look at the toys available for autistic children, it is observed that many toys often generalize all autistic children into one broad category. In reality, causes, needs, treatments and challenges for these children are diverse and never uniform, so not one child is the same as the next. From here the need to create an attractive and beneficial toy for autistic children.
Pooki is designed to help parents find a toy that suits their child, rather than the opposite. The Pooki’s aim is to help children in emotional, social and cognitive development. So, how is it been resolved the need of diversify? Understanding that all children are different, Pooki is designed with the principle of customization. It is a customizable toy that could be shaped to adapt to the specific needs in order to achieve the comfort.
Firstly, the ambiguous form. One toy that is attractive to one child, might not be for another, so utilizing an ambiguous form, children are encouraged to rotate and play with the form that they feel most comfortable with.
Secondly, different colours and textures. To cater for different levels of sensitivities, the fins attached to the body with magnets are available in two different textures: soft silicone and hard wood. Furthermore, these fins can have different tenuous colours that are more attractive for autistic children rather than strong colours. The fins, designed to be ergonomic and easy to hold, can also be removed if the child prefers to play without them. As regard the fabric part, the fabric chosen is a blend of merino wool and bamboo fabric which has antibacterial properties and is also easy to clean.
Thirdly, the blank face. Emotion is a very abstract concept, one person’s definition of happiness is different to another person’s. For this reason Pooki has a blank face where parents and children can draw their own interpretation of faces and emotion. This feature encourages social, cognitive and emotional development and also provides to parents and children an alternative method of communication. The face plate, made of aluminium, can be coloured with pencils, pens, markers and cleaned easily.
Another important subject is the weight of the toy. Research suggests that weighted toys promote a sense of security for autistic children. It helps calm them when the surrounding environments makes them feel uncomfortable. So, Pooki is been designed with a slight weight that is contained inside. For any child, the weight is present, but not interfere with normal play, instead for an autistic child, this slight weight can help to lead them a sense of calm.
Finally, Pooki is designed to be customizable in order to not generalise or stereotype autistic children. Using features such as magnetic limbs, a weighted body, an ambiguous form and a blank face, Pooki aim’s to appeal to as many children as possible with an engaging product that will aid them in emotional, social and cognitive development. So this is a great example of a toy designed to truly benefit children, in particular autistic children.