Words Carry Weight

Mar 19, 2024 | ChangeMaker Projects 2024

Team Name: Words Carry Weight

Project Title: Words Carry Weight Social Stories

Project Type: Mobile App

Project Link: https://studio.code.org/projects/applab/YRYxwA3-rP5mT0oBxmNfTebWd8XTU3bbrzIrRWQviLg

Video Link:  Words Carry Weight Social Stories Video

Write Up: 

After having a childhood tainted by countless visits from Child Protective Services, the birth of my younger siblings gave me a new purpose. I decided that I would do everything in my power to protect them from similar experiences, and raise them with love and kindness. In watching them grow, I began to realize just how malleable young children are, and how vital it is to shape the next generation. At the same time, I began having nightmares of attending school. After having close friends experience the Parkland shooting, I grew increasingly frustrated at my lack of influence regarding safety in schools. Recognizing this, wanting to help my current generation and make schools safer for my younger siblings, I sought a unique perspective to address the underlying causes of the student body’s disconnect. The birth of my younger siblings underscored the malleability of young minds, motivating me to prevent violence by instilling kindness and empathy at a fundamental developmental stage, facilitated through my nonprofit, “Words Carry Weight Inc.” 

In my nonprofit, I would travel to schools and conduct an interactive presentation for children, imparting the values of kindness and empathy completely free of charge. Yet deep down I knew I was leaving out an entire demographic of children. My presentations wouldn’t be able to properly accommodate neurodivergent needs. I began shadowing Joe DiMaggio children’s developmental therapists, and became fascinated with the different tools they used to cater to special needs minds. After a long conversation with one of the therapists, they informed me that the work I did for my non-profit virtually didn’t exist for neurodiverse children. It became my duty to change that. 

This coded app was the result of months and months of research, preparation, and execution. The biggest challenge in developing this project was that I was delving into a realm I knew absolutely nothing about, and to be honest, I was pretty nervous to get out of my comfort zone. Fortunately, after countless hours of research, shadowing children’s developmental therapists, and meetings with inclusion specialists, I decided to create six original social stories for neurodiverse children. “Social stories” aim to teach complex topics in a way that caters to the needs of neurodiverse minds. The six original social stories were created by conducting a photoshoot of my younger siblings and their neurodiverse friends, and feature an AAC communication device. After creating the complete outline and designs for the book, I decided to create a physical version in order to test its impact. I traveled to multiple neurodiverse schools and special needs fairs, sharing the stories with the present families and teachers. The feedback I received reaffirmed my mission. Parents and teachers asked how they could purchase a copy, and I assured them that soon enough they would be able to have free digital access. 

Recognizing the importance of global accessibility, I coded, designed, and developed an app that makes the social stories available internationally, free of charge. It encompasses all six social stories titled “Helping”, “Boundaries”, “Apologizing”, “Including”, “Sharing”, and “Compliments”. These are emotional learning topics that may be difficult for neurodiverse children to grasp, but it is intentionally presented to them in a format resonant with their cognition: larger images displaying actions, and to-the-point captions. The reactions from parents and teachers who have been able to use the app for their children has been incredibly rewarding. Even in the process of troubleshooting, when I was able to travel to different locations to gain feedback from the physical social stories, seeing neurodiverse children engaged and eager to read the stories warmed my heart. I was determined to work even harder to make it accessible for any child or family. I plan on utilizing coding and technology to further the movement. I am hoping to transition towards a completely digital format by recording interactive video presentations. This eliminates the need for physical travel to schools, workplaces, or camps, enabling institutions worldwide to download and engage their students in the content. Overall, I want to create a kinder, more empathetic future for all children in hopes of also limiting violence in schools.