Puzzle Piece tablet – a work of heart part 1

734569_622140517875072_5397783405811998416_n (1)Autism Daily Newscast reported briefly on a revolutionary new tablet aimed for the needs and budgets of parents with autistic children back at the beginning of May. The evolution of advanced technology has made life a lot easier for children and families living with autism.

Andrea McKean co-founder of Puzzle Piece, the company behind providing the $19 tablet took a time out from her busy schedule to talk to us about the reasons why it was so important to the company to provide an aid for autistic children to help them develop independent living and communication skills.

Do you have a background or a personal involvement with autism or anyone on the spectrum?

I am mother of two young children (8 year old boy and 7 year old girl), a wife, and mother to a rescue cat and possibly thinking about getting a dog. Both my husband and I work together in our ABA practice. It’s a full family affair, with my children helping out and volunteering as peer buddies at events ever since they were preschoolers. They currently love volunteering at the local non-profit autism soccer club every Monday.

I have been in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since my undergraduate years at West Virginia University in 1989. There I began taking psychology courses. One of my courses, was as a research assistant. As a research assistant, I was asked to work with a non-vocal child 5 year old boy who had such extreme behaviors, that he placed in a class by himself with a teacher. In the semester, that I worked with this child, I was able to see him blossom…from a child that threw chairs, tantrumed, and hid under tables… to one that smiled, was excited to see me, and learned to sign for things he needed. I realized, I did that and that was amazing! The semester of research resulted in it being published.

After my undergraduate, I began a Master’s program. As a Master’s Graduate Student in Psychology, I began a part time job as a behavioral therapist.I was amazed at each child’s individual triumphs. I was forever hooked. And thus began my life long passion for working with children with Autism in 1994. Even to this day, my favorite part of the day is getting down on the ground and playing with the kids. There is no better happy pill for me than that.

Currently, I have an ABA practice in southern California which services over 125 children from 18 months old to 15 years of age.

In our family,our cousin is an adult with Asperger’s. We love seeing him during our huge family reunion each year in Minnesota. He is delightlful and has always been so curious about my kids since they were babies…always coming by each day, sometimes just to sit on our couch to visit and just watch the children play. He is active on the computer and Facebook. We chat on FB often.

Tell us a little bit about the concept. Why do you think it was important to produce this for the autism community?

The mission of Puzzle Piece is to help families affected by autism grow through technology. The landscape of helping children with autism changed dramatically with the introduction of the iPad. Gone were the days of having to create every material for each child with, paper, scissors and a lamination. Not only was the device wonderful because you could create schedules, flash cards, etc., but because of the responsiveness of many of the children to the technology. Furthermore, amazing AAC apps are available for those children who are unable to vocalize their needs. Unfortunately, the cost was too expensive for many.

Puzzle Pieces other co-founder wanted to find a way to be able to reach families and children affected by autism..to make technology reachable for those who need it the most. We were able to find manufacturers who could create 7 inch fully functioning android tablets, 3-4 hour battery life, front and rear facing camers, Google Play Store, and 4 GB of space. We also wanted to try to take some of the guesswork out for parents searching for apps for their children. So 10 new apps are sent to Puzzle Piece Family members each month. The apps range from games which are entertaining and can be used as reward, to social stories which help the families address needs associated with autism such as, taking care of myself, community outings, behaviors, school, and socialization, to apps which are designed for self-monitoring, conversation builders, and more. We hope to supply as many as 20 apps per month so that families may choose depending of the needs and likes of their child what best suites them. We understand that each child is different with different needs, interests, and wants. That is why there is no contract. There is only an initial payment of $19 & monthly payment of $19 and a member may cancel at any time and keep the tablet.

We do hope the families and children find the apps useful and enjoyable.

More on Puzzle piece, and the tablet in part 2 of our interview.