New app MagnusCards helps those with autism: Interview Special

Posted Nov 6, 2017 by Tim Sandle
An app called MagnusCards aims to help people with autism do everyday activities like food shopping, brushing your teeth, and socializing. We spoke with the inventor, Nadia Hamilton.
Repetitively stacking or lining up objects is a behavior sometimes associated with individuals with ...
Repetitively stacking or lining up objects is a behavior sometimes associated with individuals with autism.
Andwhatsnext via wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Inspired by her brother Troy who has Autism, Nadia Hamilton set out to create a tool to help people living with autism become more independent. This led to her creating MagnusCards, for the autism community.
The app features a gaming element (something that helps people on the spectrum get engaged), and it breaks down daily living tasks into small, manageable steps, using visual "how-tos" ― or digital flash cards ― to guide its users through a variety of activities.
An overview is provided in the following video:
To discover more about the product, Digital Journal spoke with Nadia Hamilton.
Digital Journal: What are the problems faced by those autism leading everyday lives?
Nadia Hamilton: I’d say the biggest problem faced by those with autism is a lack of independence and inclusion, especially as they mature into adults. My brother graduated to the couch after high school because the world was not equipped to support his needs. There are 44 million people with cognitive special needs in North America (like autism acquired brain injury, Down syndrome) and they are facing futures of boredom, isolation, and dependency. It’s a hugely underserved group.
DJ: How much does the healthcare system support those with autism?
Hamilton: The healthcare system does have programs and funding in place, but it’s simply not enough to meet the demand and the focus appears to be on helping children. What is often ignored is that children with autism become adults with autism. There are waiting lists that can be years and years long for a family to just meet with a specialist, or to get into a special school program that has the capacity to support their child effectively. Magnusmode creates practical tools that can help those struggling today. By building skills supporting independence and daily living, it may be possible for people to lead productive and inclusive lifestyles here and now.
DJ: What does the MagnusCards app do?
Hamilton: MagnusCards is a daily living support tool that combines proven methods of learning with game design. For those with autism, visual “storyboards” and prompts are often required in order to move through a set of steps to complete a task. Often, parents, caregivers or teachers need to be present, giving those prompts and support.
MagnusCards digitalizes this process, with Card Decks (activities) featuring the image and written/audio instructions needed to complete the task. We have Card Decks in 12 categories, covering a huge range of activities like cooking, personal care, taking the bus, activities in the classroom, doing your banking, going to the library, ordering food in a restaurant, socializing/dating, etc.
Users can also create their own Card Decks, so parents, caregivers or teachers can build Decks to address specific challenges their children face. It’s the ultimate handheld, digital, life skills guide.
DJ: What types of activities are provided with the app?
Hamilton: For anything that people need to do on a daily basis, there will be a Card Deck to support it. Our business model engages corporations as sponsors for life skills activities, which are presented on each digital Card Deck. For example, Colgate has just created Card Decks for oral care.
Closely developed with oral health experts at Colgate, the five new decks include: brushing, brushing with braces, rinsing, flossing, and visiting the dental office. In addition, users can create their own Card Decks, customized to unique needs and learning styles.
DJ: What were the major challenges when developing the app?
Hamilton: The cognitive special needs spectrum is huge and heterogeneous. There are so many different abilities and challenges that it can be a difficult group to design solutions for. I decided very early on that the company would first focus our efforts on creating solutions for people transitioning from school to adulthood. It just so happens that the life skills this group needs to learn are appealing to people of all ages, so that was a win-win for us.
DJ: What has been the reception from those with autism or their careers?
Hamilton: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Our users are accomplishing tasks left, right and center! What’s been great is to see how everyone uses the app a little bit differently. Teachers create Card Decks to support life skills lessons, parents create Card Decks to practice at-home routines, and users are managing their daily lives with MagnusCards. Furthermore, our partners are seeing high levels of engagement with their custom-branded Card Decks.
DJ: What has the take –up of the app been like so far?
Hamilton: It’s been great so far! We have users in 27 countries world-wide. There have been thousands of Card Deck downloads and views, all over the world, but most heavily in North America, and a very highly weekly returning user rate (above 50%). On top of that, new Card Decks are being created by parents and caregivers every week.
DJ: Is the app aimed only at the U.S. or is it international?
Hamilton: We are currently focusing our growth in North America, but we can see from our analytics that it’s catching on in other countries as well. People with autism and cognitive special needs live everywhere in the world, so MagnusCards is evolving into an innovative and effective platform for the global special needs community.
DJ: How did you address cyber security issues?
Hamilton: We had to find a balance between security and agility. So, for security, we made sure that the server and online properties have measures that help protect all our users and customer data without compromising a good user experience.
With that in mind, we also kept the app simple and straightforward, because at a consumer level, it needed to be usable and intuitive.
DJ: Are there any other projects that you are working on?
Hamilton: Always! MagnusCards is our first product, but we also envision a suite of autism and special needs tools to further support the special needs communities across the globe. For now, we’re focusing on MagnusCards, building more partnerships to expand our Card Decks offering on the app, and spreading the word to reach more users!
The app is free to download at [url=] On downloading, users will see an animated wizard named Magnus, who provides step-by-step instructions to complete various activities with rewards; therefore, helping reinforce a positive experience for them and eliminating the stress of learning a new task.