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Cure Autism Now Teams with University of California, Berkeley to Develop Groundbreaking Product Design Course

Interdisciplinary undergraduate course to explore sociological issues of disability and autism, and have students design products to improve the lives of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
October 10, 2007

This fall, undergraduates will have an opportunity to learn about autism and develop novel products designed to meet the needs of individuals with autism by enrolling in "Autism, Culture, and Design: An Interdisciplinary Design Exploration" in the Department of Art Practice at UC Berkeley. The course will be taught by Dan Gillette, Ed. M., Specialist at the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley and Chair of CAN's Innovative Technology for Autism (ITA) Workgroup.

The students enrolled in the course will attend lectures, as well as form interdisciplinary teams and make regular field visits to sites such as homes, schools and work places of individuals with autism to better understand their challenges, strengths, and community needs. The students' observations of, and interactions with, cultures that include individuals with autism will serve as a vehicle for brainstorming and developing products to promote access to education, work and social interaction for those with autism.

Each interdisciplinary group will propose a design for a product, and then create mock-ups and prototypes of those designs and test them in the field. Possible projects include games, educational materials, furniture, interactive media, art, experiences, and assistive technologies. According to the course description, technical skills are not a requirement, but an open mind is.

The objectives for the course are to capture innovative thinking from a fresh pool of observers and problem-solvers, to raise disability awareness among talented students, and to promote interest in careers with an autism and disability focus. In keeping with Cure Autism Now's ongoing strategy to bring new talent into the field of autism, it is also anticipated that this course will assist in developing a standard curriculum that can be adopted by other colleges and universities-cultivating the interest of new students, as well as faculty in other technology-related fields.

The UC Berkeley course builds on the framework of a pilot class offered last year at Stanford University, where Gillette and product designer David Law co-taught a small inter-departmental graduate class of ten students. One group of students created a therapeutic chair with weights for comforting sensory input. Another group devised an interactive speaking device for use in an adult social skills program, and these three students continue to pursue work in the field of autism. Mr. Gillette noted, "what the students enjoyed the most was the connections they made with the people, and the understanding they gained of the people and culture of those affected by autism."

The "Autism, Culture, and Design" class at UC Berkeley is an important step in CAN's continued efforts to bring creative and talented people from different disciplines into the autism community, and we hope for its success in facilitating the expansion and application of technology to improving the lives of those living with autism today.

For more information about the ITA Initiative please
click here.