A team of Indian American high school girls from Monte Vista High School in the San Francisco Bay Area of California created an app and pitched it in the 2018 Technovation Challenge, resulting in being named a senior division finalist.
The girls – Ria Doshi, Harini Arumugam and Eesha Ramkumar – through the team FemStem, created Alleviate, a mobile app designed to help individuals with autism improve their social interaction skills and reduce anxiety in times of stress, and, as a U.S. representative, finished near the top of the roughly 20,000 participants globally in the challenge.
“Our school has a significantly large special education system, so we’ve grown up watching these kids struggle in the classroom due to their condition. Unfortunately, these kids are only a handful of the 100 million people worldwide who suffer from autism,” Doshi, also a recent graduate of STEAM-focused Stratford School, explained to India-West.
“Inspired by the amazing special education community at our school, we decided to create Alleviate, an app to help individuals with autism overcome the challenges they face in their daily lives. We frequently contacted the special ed system at our school for advice on our app, and when we tested the finished product, it was so rewarding to see the kids have a great time learning from and exploring Alleviate,” she said.
Just being named a finalist was an amazing development for the team, Doshi said.
“When the results came out, we were all shocked. When we found out that we had become finalists, we were so excited! We were so happy for the attention the app and its features garnered, to bring light to the amazing special education communities like ours, all over the world,” Doshi said.
But the work by Doshi and the FemStem girls is no surprise to Vidya Janardhanan, a computer science teacher at Stratford.
“Ria was a very enthusiastic learner and always had a very positive attitude in class,” the teacher told India-West.
“She would often help her peers debug and fix errors in their code. She was an excellent team player, always helping and collaborating on group projects,” Janardhanan added. “For the Hour of Code event in 2016, Ria and her classmates did a virtual video session with the preschool students at our Altadena Allen campus, teaching them the meaning of an algorithm with an unplugged activity. This session gave them an opportunity to mentor young children, which Ria and her class thoroughly enjoyed.”
Interaction features on Alleviate work for both verbal and non-verbal users, and the relaxation feature helps users relax with a customizable breathing simulator.
With this tool, individuals on the autism spectrum can develop the skills they need to equip themselves for adulthood. Alleviate gives them the ability to overcome challenges they face in their daily lives, according to a news release.
Doshi said she didn’t know either of her teammates coming into the Technovation Challenge, since she transferred to her school from Stratford Middle School. She said they met at the Technovation Club at Monte Vista, and have become close friends since.
FemStem received advice during its ideation period from a mutual mentor who has a sister with special needs. This allowed them to further personalize Alleviate to fit individuals on the autism spectrum, Doshi explained. She added that the team also received amazing support from the officers at its Technovation club, who were introduced to the challenge and inspired them to participate.
“Before the challenge, none of us knew how to code an app. Through hard work and perseverance, however, we learned to code our app on both Android and iOS devices, which was super cool. The challenge really inspired me to further pursue technology,” Doshi told India-West.
Alleviate intends to be available on Android and Apple devices, for free, by the end of the year “as we want our app to be perfect before release,” Doshi noted, adding that they are still contacting more autism centers and working with neuroscientists to make the app even better.
“Our app benefits both autism caretakers and individuals with autism. Our simple user interface allows any type of user to have success with the app,” she added.
In the future, Doshi said the team plans to continue to develop Alleviate, working with neuroscientists and autism centers to get more feedback on the app and “make it as amazing and applicable to the autism community as possible.”
More information about the team and the Alleviate app can be found by visiting www.teamfemstem.weebly.com.