‘Netflix For Neurodiverse’: World’s First TV Channel For Autistic Kids
It started when media entrepreneur Gilad Piker realized his 15-year-old nephew – who has autism and is non-verbal – wasn’t so interested in the cartoon on TV, but was fascinated by the credits at the end.
Piker is now about to launch what he calls “Netflix for the neurodiverse”, the world’s first video streaming channel designed specifically for people who experience and interact with the world around them in different ways.
Poppins is designed to change the viewing habits of children and young people who can typically spend four hours a day watching YouTube, but gain little from the experience.
“We want to create a special video solution for special children, providing relevant, age-appropriate content, and accommodating their visual preferences,” Piker, an Israeli creator and producer of animated TV shows, tells NoCamels.
“We are trying to advance autistic children to their maximum potential by using technology and quality videos.”
He says children with autism often replay the same video or even the same scene many times, but are anxious about watching new or unfamiliar programs.
Due to launch at the end of this year, Poppins aims to change that by broadening their horizons in terms of the content they watch, and also the way they watch it.
The first step was to develop a visual adjustment tool – filters which help them focus and concentrate on what they’re watching.
Autistic children often have difficulties with sensory processing. The vidget – a video widget designed by Poppins – allows them, for example, to reduce the color saturation or watch live action programs as cartoon outlines, so they’re less overwhelmed.
The content can also be displayed on a billboard within the screen. “The viewer may not be willing to explore new content, but if you put it in a familiar frame, it’s not new any more,” says Piker.
He and his team then started putting together a library of appropriate content. Many autistic viewers are confused by a large cast of characters, or complex emotions, or violence, or a scene where it’s unclear what’s happening, or when the voice they can hear is not that of the person they can see on screen.
They’re more likely to be troubled by explosions, loud noises, flashing lights, and calmed by footage of an elevator ride or a revolving door.
So kids’ superhero show Power Rangers is out (too hectic, noisy and violent), but Arthur, the animated series about an inquisitive aardvark, is in.
“We cherrypick hundreds of hours of content from shows around the world that are enriching and entertaining, accessible, popular and trigger free (ie won’t cause upset) for sensitive children,” says Piker.
Poppins is licensing a range of TV programs that meets its strict set of criteria, and will also be producing its own educational content.
It’s planning a series on old and new train journeys, another on how facial expressions reveal our emotions, one on cleaning, cooking and gardening, and a series of classic kids’ books read in a gentle and soothing whisper.
By analyzing their viewing preferences using artificial intelligence, Poppins will also give parents or caregivers a window into their inner world.
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“We collect data, and create a very unique user profile,” says Piker. “By doing that we can share actionable insights with parents.
“We can tell you what your child enjoys watching. For example, a child who keeps watching elevator rides and airplanes flying from the airport has an interest in vertical motion. Or we can see that your child’s attention span is 60 seconds and suggest working with him with short messages,” says Piker.
“We get a user profile and share data with parents and caregivers that they can use to better communicate and treat children with autism.”
According to Poppins’ own trials, viewers who tried its platform were more engaged and attentive, and more ready to make the switch from watching pre-school programs to young adult television series.
Piker recalls how his nephew provided the inspiration for Poppins.
“He’d watch content for kids and toddlers, like baby TV or Teletubbies. Any time he saw the end credits, he would stand up in front of the screen, as if it was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen.
“He’s nonverbal, so you can’t ask and you don’t know, but it was a very visual behavior.”
Piker made him a 30-minute video of end credits for his birthday, interspersed with greetings and messages.
“The moment the moment I pressed play, he just stood up in front of the screen, and he watched the entire half hour,” he says.
That led him to research what autistic kids watch, to dig deeper, and to speak to therapists and researchers.
“I realized that the video diet of children with autism tends to be very different and very distinct,” he says. “And each child has their own way. But on the other hand, there are clear patterns that emerge.
“Some teenagers will only watch shows for toddlers, others will watch only animation, not live action, because they feel uncomfortable with social interactions, or with eye contact.
“Some just like low-resolution images, in VHS-style. Many others like movie titles, or elevator rides, or trains or any visual, appealing content. And they’re more interested in the visual than the story.”
Piker now heads a team of autism and animation experts at Snowflix, the company behind Poppins. He plans, initially, to tap into the US market, charging a monthly subscription for the service.
There are approximately seven million autistic people in the United States and a well-established market for niche TV streaming services – with 250 channels showing everything from Asian soap operas to programs for home-alone dogs.