Brighter Futures for Beautiful Minds (BFBM) evolved from a parent’s own personal journey seeking out resources to support her child’s learning and development.
The story of Tricia Sulpizio Estrada and her son is one of exploration, trial and error, many challenges and celebrations of the discoveries and successes that has helped Tricia support her child’s learning and development in ways that best meet his needs. You see, in 2007 Tricia’s son was diagnosed at two and a half with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), an autism spectrum disorder.
The story that follows is not an uncommon one. The actual specifics are different, but the emotional roller coaster, the doors that close, the doors that open, trying different therapies and approaches, the searching for new and different therapists who may have just that extra bit of knowledge or specialty that relates to the needs of this one amazing, beautiful child – they are all pretty similar. Parents of children with autism share an experience of raising and caring for children that belongs to that community, and we can hear their stories and imagine, but we can’t fully know.
What is always wonderful is when developmental success happens. As Tricia writes in her story: As my son turned 3, he continued with limited spontaneous speech, yet began talking frequently in scripts from movies or shows he saw on TV. In 2008 a new series began on the Disney Channel called Special Agent Oso. This show was a fun engaging series that focused on a 3-step process to perform basic tasks. They showed episodes about teaching children how to brush their teeth, or how to wash dishes and rake leaves. After watching different episodes of this show, my son learned more from a 20 minute video than I had seen from months of trying to teach him different behaviors myself; such as brushing your teeth, or how to put on his shirt.
It was the experience of seeing the potential of media to support her son’s development that lead to Tricia to develop her knowledge around the different learning styles of children and specifically children with autism and to begin to explore how the skills and knowledge they need could be best developed in multimedia environments. It is in this way that BFBM is different: they don’t just develop iOS apps. They do have an app – the Wonkido Mood Journal - for children to learn emotions and then journal their moods during the day, allowing them to send mood entries to a parent or teacher via email. But they also have animations, videos and books. This is because they are an organisation focused on creating and providing modern, visual tools that allow children to learn social, organizational and developmental skills for home, school and life-long success. They recognize that one platform and one teaching method is not enough. The organization leverages technology, but they provide the same and similar content presented in different ways to meet the different learning needs of children with autism.
All children learn in different ways – not just kids with autism. So, what BFBM is doing is demonstrating through their approach to designing and developing learning tools a level of best practice that very few providers of educational technology and tools meet. A way of approaching development that should be applied to all children. BFBM is a fine example of what we should see more of. Transmedia as a concept is so often about narrative and taken over by large media organizations and big budget movies. But here, we see transmedia education at a different scale and providing impact in substantial ways.
The BFBM characters, as well as the learning processes, jump across platforms and in doing so meet the different learning and development needs of different children. BFBM is doing its best to provide a breadth of entry points to support all children to build their social and organizational skills. All that said, the product development is something any movie studio would be proud of. BFBN also offers the characters that are in their animations as soft toys. BFBM’s commitment to bringing together the best of educational technology and child-development research needs to be applauded. It is evidenced in their approach and products like their Wonkido Animated Social Skills. These videos are available as downloads on the BFBM website and can be synced with any mobile device. (Recognizing the importance of being platform neutral is another thing that developers need to contemplate more). These videos teach children visually and step by step necessary developmental skills that every child needs to know how to do independently. They have also turned these videos into a series of Developmental Interactive eBooks with titles like Going Potty and Getting Dressed. They are also colorful and visual tools for learning social skills, but in a different format for children who need to learn, or have their learning consolidated at a different pace with parents reading and working with them on a particular skill.
Of course, BFBM is not “the answer” for parents of children with autism; there isn’t one answer. For some children these resources and tools won’t be of help for any number of reasons. But that is okay. The point here is that the approach BFBM is taking is an excellent one from a learning and development perspective. They are attempting to be as platform neutral as possible, provide learning environments for different types of learners and are driven by a philosophy that is child-centered and recognizes the need for more individualized approaches.