Autistic people face significant challenges daily; in many cases, their challenges are not visible to those around them. Even the people that make up the support network of somebody with Autism cannot truly experience how it feels to be autistic.
Autistic people are more sensitive to noise, light, and the environment than neurotypical people. This leads to a feeling of dysregulation. Dysregulation displays itself as stress and anxiety, leading to aggression or sleepiness. Many places, such as schools and public buildings, can be overwhelming. We all experience stress and anxiety at some point. It is just more acute for an autistic or neurosensitive person.
In attempting to deal with stress, most of us let the pressure build or seek a safe space to collect ourselves and regulate our sensory needs before returning to what we were doing. However, our busy world has very few suitable safe spaces. This is a particular problem for autistic people. Without such a space, they find it hard to participate fully in education and society and their undoubted talents are suppressed or missed.
Some places have a traditional sensory room. Ideally, an occupational therapist should manage them. Plus, outcomes are variable, unpredictable, and can be very time-consuming. They are also space hungry.
There is a significant problem in schools that feel enormous societal pressure to be more inclusive of neurodivergent people. Few schools have access to an occupational therapist and instead rely on one-to-one interventions from hard to recruit and retain support staff.
Many schools also lack any safe space for these students to regulate their sensory needs. Consequently, classes are disrupted, and stretched teachers have added stress. Often dysregulated students wander corridors, lock themselves in toilet cubicles or feign illness to go home. This absorbs lots of valuable school resources. In the most severe cases, students can face exclusion.
All this forms the inspiration for the innovative digital solution introduced by David McIntyre, whose real-life family experiences inspired him to create what is known as Cubbie.
A safe space
David explains: "I am the inventor and managing director of Cubbie. I have four wonderful children and a lovely wife. Two of our children are autistic. Until we noticed their sensory sensitivity, we had no idea about Autism.
Their school tried to help, but they, too, struggled for knowledge and resources. Like the teachers, we found this frustrating. I quickly decided I wanted to help solve the problem rather than fight the system.
I am an engineer by trade and used this skill (plus an incredible amount of my spare time!) to build the first Cubbie in my garage. I wanted to help my children initially. It worked amazingly well. My family loved it. Since then, Cubbie has become a successful business helping thousands of autistic, stressed and anxious people participate more fully in education and society.”
So, what is a Cubbie? It is an easy-to-use, immersive, safe, personal space of sound and vision free of disruptions, driven by software, and wheelchair friendly.
Most users have their own unique Cubbie Profile created by the Cubbie occupational therapist in combination with their software. A session is called a Cubbie Sprint and lasts for between 5 and 15 minutes.
David explains, "We want the student to have maximum time in the classroom, not the Cubbie".
How does it work?
The advantage of a personalised Cubbie Profile is the software helps schedule Cubbie Sprints to prevent dysregulation keeping disruption to a minimum. It also means that users can pick up where they left off at their last session and progress is monitored.
A Cubbie is for one student at a time and must be used with the student's consent. Nobody should ever be forced to use a Cubbie. It deliberately has lock-free transparent doors. Inside, the student is safe, self-sufficient, visible, and free to leave anytime.
Sensory Sprint users can regulate their sensory needs predictably and reliably within five to fifteen minutes. This gives the autistic student sufficient time to benefit from the experience while also being able to return to their daily school routine very quickly, maximising not just inclusion but participation too. It also reduces disruption to the teacher and their class since the autistic student is only absent for a short time.
The results have been incredible. With Cubbie, schools can do more with less. Schools report that they can currently manage a maximum of four students a day, but with a Cubbie, this is more than twenty students, which frees up precious teaching support time. They're manufactured in Birmingham for UK customers and its home nation of Ireland, with the company itself being based out of County Mayo.
A truly diverse solution
All of this sounds exciting, but there's more to it. Although those with sensory overload autism benefit the most from using a Cubbie, these experiences are also extremely valuable to anyone with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia. Not to mention neurotypical students who use a Cubbie Sprint to ease their stress and anxiety, even teachers use Cubbie for mindfulness, especially before or after school.
Schools aren't the only location where you could benefit from using a Cubbie. Over the past few years, many places have invested in Cubbies to aid those with sensory needs. These include libraries, universities, hospitals, and respite care. Even the Aviva Stadium in Dublin has a Cubbie! There are plans for workplaces, shops, and many more public spaces.
Cubbies are connected to the cloud, so anyone with a Cubbie Profile can go to any Cubbie, be recognised, and pick up where they left off. Libraries are starting to install Cubbies to provide support when schools are closed.
As the widespread usage of Cubbies demonstrates, there has been significant positive feedback for these fantastic immersive experiences. Here are just some of the comments that users and their carers have made about Cubbies so far:
"Initially, we investigated buying a Cubbie to support our autistic students. However, it quickly became obvious that Cubbie is not just for autistic people as we can all suffer from sensory overload."
"The Cubbie is loved by our students. There is no stigma attached to its use, and it allows our students to be more participative as (the software) helps pre-empt and prevent sensory (overload) issues."
"Children, parents, and staff report calmer, happier, and more settled children. The children return to their class ready to participate in their work."
A cubbie in every school
Many Schools want a Cubbie but are facing a funding crisis and risk being unable to solve a real problem. Step in businesses that want to give back to society. They partly or fully fund Cubbies for schools.
Recent support has come from Walls Construction, AWS, and Aviva. They do it as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the fact that the Cubbie software can produce data on impact is a huge benefit when it comes to reporting. As word spreads, David is expecting more businesses to come forward and fund Cubbies.
Cubbie has received numerous awards for its life-changing technology, such as the Innovation Award at the National Enterprise Awards 2022, an honour at the Diversity In Tech Awards, and winning The Charles Darwin award at the BITA awards. No doubt, further awards will come Cubbie's way as more and more businesses and people understand what it is all about.
But to David, the true triumph comes not from plaques, trophies, and nominations but from the ability to positively impact those who may require support.
David concludes: "Society is rapidly changing to be more inclusive. There is more understanding and desire to include people in wheelchairs than ever. You install ramps, lifts, wide entrances, and exits, plus low door handles. Similarly, a Cubbie helps autistic people participate in and benefit from a full education and become active members of Society."