This beautifully designed toy uses a clever trick to help autistic kids communicate

For autistic children struggling with sense of touch, verbal communication, or expressing emotion, Synchrony might just become their favourite toy.

Coated in a silicone skin, the wooden drum-like device comes with no instructions — because they aren’t necessary. All a parent and child need to do is press the drum, and Synchrony produces soothing sounds. Hard strikes make louder sounds. Sustained presses are more resonant.

The instrument is tuned to the pentatonic scale, which means there are no dissonant notes. Kids and parents can use Synchrony however they like and it will still sound melodious.

Synchrony designer Kenneth Tay says the goal of the toy is to bridge a communication gap that’s commonly found between parents and autistic kids.

“Instead of throwing tantrums, kids can play it really hard and express their feelings and emotions,” Tay tells Tech Insider. “And in turn, parents can respond to them.”

Tay says he was in Boston, attending a hackathon hosted by music therapists at Berklee College of Music, when inspiration struck.

“I realised [music therapists] face a lot of issues and problems in the daily practice of their work, and that a lot of those problems and issues could be solved in a design project,” Tay says. 

He returned to Pasadena with a plan, studying footage of music therapy sessions and reading the literature on the benefits of music therapy. Tay interviewed a handful of therapists and parents, and soon learned that because kids with autism often are non-verbal and more sensitive to noise, playtime can easily become overwhelming.

Though it’s only a prototype, the response to Synchrony has been tremendous, Tay says. Parents and kids instantly find a connection when they use the device together. It was even awarded top honours at this year’s International Design Excellence Awards.

While music therapy no doubt works, sessions only happen once or twice a week. And musically disinclined parents can feel afraid they will only make things worse at home.

Sensing that need, Tay hopes to bring Synchrony to anyone who can benefit, autistic or otherwise. He envisions an accompanying smartphone app that comes with a catalogue of “instruments” capable of transforming Synchrony from a string instrument into, say, a brass one.

If he has the time, that is.

Tay recently accepted a job at Seattle-based design firm Artefact. Once he settles in, he says, perhaps Synchrony can move from collecting dust on his website to helping real people live better lives through sound.


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