The Smarter Senses Project is a three step programme that commenced in 2010 with the aim of driving the Shine Centre for Autism in Cork forward to become best in class globally and to enable children with autism to learn, develop and communicate more effectively. At the core of the Smarter Senses Project is the commitment to improve the behavioural and academic outcomes for children with autism and to improve their quality of life and that of their families.
The project kicked off in late 2010 with a small team of committed people headed up by Denis Collins (then IBM) as Chairman. Phase one of the project aimed to put technology at the centre of the children’s learning experience. From the start the project focused on engaging with other Cork businesses including IBM, Bank of New York/Mellon and Laya Healthcare to acquire tablets, laptops and specialised learning computers and software. Within 9 months every child attending a service in the Shine Centre had access to an iPad and Kidsmart Learning Computers were introduced to each classroom. Staff from the companies aligned to the project also supported the staff of Shine in the use of the technology and established the internal IT infrastructure to support Smarter Senses Project.
This collaborative model and local leadership was continued in the second phase of the project which centred on building a Sensory Garden at the Shine Centre. The garden, which focuses on touch, taste, smell and sound through the use of flowers, fruits and plants and a water feature was realised through financial, design and development contributions of a number of Cork organisations and volunteers who were guided by Shine. Issues like balance and fine and gross motor skills were also catered for in the design with a two tier garden area, a footbridge and a soft play area.
“There is something special happening – our region is demonstrating globally relevant thought leadership and collaboration with our Smarter Senses vision. The model is generating results across the technical, social, academic, and commercial spectrum. We are building on this, and will position Shine & Ireland Inc as a global thought leader for early intervention. Most importantly, it is making a tangible difference in the lives of children and families with autism, who need it most”, said Chairman Smarter Senses, Denis Collins.
The third phase of the programme ambitiously launched a Social Skills programme developed at the Shine Centre to the worldwide autism community. The classroom based PALS (Personal & Life Skills Programme) had been running at Shine since 2010 and had proven to be hugely successful in developing the social skills of young adolescents with autism. Subsequently, the PALS programme was digitised and made available on an application platform for tablets and smartphones. This was the first step in developing a portal containing applications, information, research and strategies in the area of autism and special needs developed by Shine and their partners in Cork.
This phase, heavily supported by the Bons Secours, saw the development of a social skills app (Mission Rescue Klog), designed by a local SME, Doodle Creative, to assist the user in understanding the social world in which they live and to teach social skills in a fun and meaningful way. As part of the app development process a number of children with autism were engaged to ensure that their experiences and perspectives were integrated into the app.The app is available worldwide and can be downloaded free. To date there have been over 30,000 downloads. The app is due to be further enhanced with full voice and animation and a sequel is expected to be released in September.
The achievements and contributions of the Smarter Senses project has been recognised externally and the project has already won the IBM Global Centennial Award, the Shine Ireland Outstanding Achievement Award, the Chambers Ireland CSR Excellence Award in addition to the Irish Internet Association Net Visionary Award for Best Innovation for Technology in Learning.
Through local triple helix collaboration this work has laid the foundation to establish Cork as a Global Hub for innovation in the area of autism and special needs. For more information on the smart senses project please see http://shineireland.com/smarter-senses/ and to download the Social Skills App please go to http://kloogsocialskills.com/
Partners involved in this initiative include: