An app for autism

Newsroom authorby Jill ScarrowMay 17, 2017
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Shauna-Kay Jones doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Two years ago, she saw her brother, who has autism, struggling to decide what to do after high school. She knew he could handle the academic rigors of college or university, but she worried about how he would cope with large class sizes, living away from home and managing his own schedule and assignments.

“He had a lot of help growing up, but after he turned 18, I could see there was going to be a big switch,” she says. “After you’ve been getting tools and resources your entire life and then you’re just pushed out into the world, how do you manage? How do you cope?”

The 2015 alumna decided to find some answers to those questions. She was then in her final year of the Software Development and Network Engineering program, when students complete a capstone project. They work with a company, or create their own project to solve a real-life problem. Jones’ team created Motify, an app that helps those living with autism navigate challenges like daily schedules or job interviews. Classmate Keisha Alcott was on Jones’ team. She was drawn to the challenge of building something that’s tailored to each user. Autism is widely variable, she explains, so Motify’s different modules meet different needs. For instance, one provides real-time feedback on body language and facial expressions after people use a webcam to answer mock job-interview questions. Another guides users through games that help them cope with daily schedule changes, since many people on the autism spectrum feel anxious about managing their time.

While Alcott creates the technical aspects of the app, Jones handles marketing, sources investments and works with their partners. Since word got out about their project, they’ve been approached by school boards, parents, advocacy groups and researchers who are eager to test and use Motify. As a result, it’s no longer just for college students.

“The school board people told us, if you want to help these people, you have to help them as a child,” says Alcott. “So the app changes along with you.”

"I have yet to see something that captures the essence of what we’re trying to capture. That’s what keeps me motivated.” -Shauna-Kay Jones

Jones and Alcott

Today, the duo continue to perfect Motify while balancing full-time jobs. Alcott is an IT solutions developer at TD Bank. She often uses what she learns at her day job building banking apps in her work with Motify. Jones says her work as a business systems analyst at PointClickCare, a company that provides technology for the long-term care sector, gives her the chance to keep learning about new technologies, and insight into running a business. It’s tough to juggle full-time work alongside Motify, but she’s determined to stick with it. After all, she’s already seen how the right supports make a difference. Her brother is now a student at Sheridan.

“There are days when I’m tired and I want to give up. Then I’ll get an email from a parent or somebody on the spectrum, or my brother will be struggling with a course,” she says. “I keep searching too, I keep searching for something like Motify. But I have yet to see something that captures the essence of what we’re trying to capture, and that’s what keeps me motivated.”

Written by: Jill Scarrow, Manager, Advancement Communications

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