This autism toy plays hide and seek and helps kids brush their teeth
Leka, a wide-eyed glowing orb, is a smart toy that could revolutionize how parents, therapists, and kids cope with autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disorder that affects one in 68 children in the US.
Leka plays games with kids, teaches them autonomy, and cultivates emotional intelligence - all skills children with autism tend to lack.
"While there has been a lot of innovation regarding smart toys that can aid in cognitive development, none of these toys are available for public use and cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000," Ladislas de Toldi, co-founder and CEO of Leka, said in a statement.
In contrast, Leka costs $490 through its Indiegogo campaign. A limited number of buyers can snag the toy for $390.
Kids can interact with Leka in a variety of ways, all through a smartphone-enabled app.
There's Hide & Go, a game in which parents hide the toy for kids to find. When the child finds Leka, the ball lights up and vibrates. Its eyes also open in an expression of joy, "encouraging children's imagination while developing motor skills, interaction, turn-taking, and space-time awareness," the company states on its Indiegogo page.
There are a handful more, too, like Picture Bingo, where kids bring Leka a real-world object that the toy displays on its face. The toy can also act as a night light, alarm clock, timer, and general coach through daily activities.
Too often, autistic children must rely on parents and caregivers for simple tasks like getting dressed or playing with friends. Leka could help kids gradually learn those basic skills, without the pressure put on parents to stay patient.
Some experts would prefer to see formal evidence that a toy like Leka could be used for more than just recreation.
"In short, the toy looks fun and the anecdotal accounts are encouraging," Dr. James McPartland, director of the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic, tells Tech Insider, "but there does not seem to be any published research to demonstrate that it would be an effective treatment aid for children with autism."
But if a toy can help kids learn to brush their teeth on their own or train them to run and play with their friends, it may be worth trying.
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