Danya20: “Different, Not Less”

Image of a rainbow umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas, with the caption "Different, Not Less"Dr. Temple Grandin, animal behavior expert and author of The Autistic Brain, once stated, “I am different, not less.” Danya International has believed in this sentiment from our very beginning. Many of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants that we received throughout our early years focused on how to help facilitate inclusion and communication with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community.

Since 2002, we have developed and evaluated a number of educational products for individuals with ASD and their caregivers, peers, professionals, and advocates who work with them. Our goal was to create products that would help build effective communication and listening skills within the ASD community, advocate for social inclusion in the general education system, and support the emotional and behavioral health of individuals with ASD.

As we began researching best ways to reach our target audiences with our programs and products, we realized that, while many websites offered products and information about autism, we could not find one online resource for individuals to go to find research-based, high-quality products that meet the needs of individuals with ASD.

Logo for Autism Online So Danya decided to become what we were looking for. In 2009, we took over management of AutismOnline, a site started by the parent of a young girl with autism. This parent’s vision of a website that would provide resources on a global scale to people with autism and their caregivers fell in line with our own ideas for an online ASD community.

AutismOnline was the first website of its kind devoted to providing research-based, effective, high-quality resources, products, and information on ASD across the lifespan. It also is a place where parents and caregivers of children and individuals with ASD can visit and know they are not alone. Visitors can access the Caregiver Community, an online community where autism caregivers can find information and connect with other autism caregivers.

Our mission to provide products for all individuals within the ASD community makes AutismOnline a unique and extensive resource. We provide information divided into four age categories: young children with autism, children with autism, young adults with autism, and adults with autism. Within these categories, we provide handouts, activities, and links to external websites and organizations.

We also offer our line of ASD-related products, which we have painstakingly designed to target the unmet needs of this growing population. Some of our more recent products include:

Image of Charting the Course curriculum binderCharting the Course, a curriculum designed to help parents of adolescents with an ASD from ages 10 to 18 years to support and educate their children in learning the skills needed to navigate sexual health, sexuality, and relationships. Charting the Course includes a 315-page Parent’s Guide that contains chapters on topics such as puberty and personal hygiene, relationships, sexuality, and sexual health. Also included is a complementary interactive game, Boardwalk Adventure, designed to help adolescents solidify learning about sensitive topics, such as puberty and personal hygiene, friendships and relationships, dating etiquette, and sexuality-related topics in an interactive and fun way.

Image of Caring for Caregivers cover artCaring for Caregivers, an education and support group curriculum designed for professionals or paraprofessionals to use to help caregivers of individuals with autism across the lifespan reduce the stress, burden, depression, and anxiety related to caregiving. This four-part program is designed for groups of caregivers of: young children, school-aged children, adolescents and young adults, and adults with ASD. Each individual program contains a Facilitator’s Guide, Participant Workbook, and audiovisual program. Caregiver Community is a complementary website that visitors can use to find and share resources with other caregivers in their Caring for Caregiver groups or in their local community.

These products and many more can be found on AutismOnline.

In addition to our SBIR work, Danya recently assisted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a holistic evaluation of their Learn the Signs. Act Early. program, which aims to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need. We also have been helping to fill a need among Tribal communities, where resources are scarce, by giving out copies of our AutismVision: Creating Autism Awareness in Elementary School Staff curriculum during Head Start-related workshops. Our workshop attendees have provided excellent feedback for our much-needed assistance to these communities.

As Dr. Grandin and so many others with ASD prove consistently, those who are “different, not less” can make extraordinary contributions to society—it is up to us as their advocates, friends, and family to make sure they have the chance. For this reason, Danya has been deeply committed to our efforts to enhance and support the lives of children and adults with ASD as well as their community.

Danya20: SBIRs and Investing in the Big Ideas of Small Businesses

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program supports scientific excellence and technological potential through the investment of Federal research funds into critical American priorities that will help build a strong national economy. Currently, 11 Federal agencies participate in this three-phase program, which, according to SBIR.gov, strives to: stimulate technological innovation; meet Federal research and development needs; foster and encourage participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by socially and economically disadvantaged persons; and increase private-sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal research and development funding.

Phase I SBIR grants help a small business develop a concept or pilot. In Phase II, the small business uses its grant to develop, test, and evaluate the product. Phase III, considered the commercialization stage, is where the small business produces and sells their final products.

Since our beginning, Danya has won more than 100 Phase I and Phase II SBIR grants and contracts. Through this mechanism, Danya developed and enhanced its capabilities in research and evaluation, curriculum development, health product development, website development and maintenance, graphics, animation, and conference support. In 2000, Danya received the prestigious Tibbetts Award, which recognizes firms for their achievements in the SBIR program.

Our SBIR projects have provided awareness to reduce stigmas through videos and games, facilitated engagement through classroom curriculum, and provided information through websites. They covered issues such as autism, Tourette syndrome, cancer, alcohol abuse, substance abuse and prevention, smoking cessation, sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition, postpartum depression, mental health, and developmental disabilities. These projects resulted in the development of classroom curriculum, facilitator guides, screening tools, websites, factsheets, videos, board games, and even a children’s cartoon.

Our SBIR work has led to products such as:

AutismVision

DA102-3 This program was developed to foster the social inclusion of children and teens with autism, high-functioning autism (HFA), and Asperger syndrome in general education classrooms. The program consists of multimedia packages designed to reach children ages 8 to 11 and teens ages 12 to 15. The goals of AutismVision are to: increase typical children’s and teens’ understanding of autism, HFA, and Asperger syndrome; foster empathy and positive attitudes toward classmates with autism, HFA, and Asperger syndrome; and promote positive social interactions between children and teens with autism, HFA, and Asperger syndrome and their typical peers. This audiovisual program provides classmates with comprehensive, developmentally appropriate information about autism, HFA, and Asperger syndrome. Facilitator’s guides provide instructions for teachers or other advocates on how to implement the classroom presentation effectively, along with suggested activities to reinforce main learning points.

ASCENT

DA115-2The Adolescent Smoking Cessation Escaping Nicotine and Tobacco (ASCENT) program is a fun, engaging way to help youths understand social influences and learn refusal skills. Approximately 70 percent of smokers 12 to 17 years of age consider themselves addicted to cigarettes. Yet, there are very few resources that specifically target teen smokers. Cessation tools that help adults stop smoking aren’t always developmentally appropriate for teens.

Be Right Back: Time to Decide About Alcohol

DA156-2 This multimedia comprehensive curriculum educates 7th and 8th grade students about the risks of teen alcohol use and to prevent initiation of alcohol use among teens. Designed to correspond with the National Health Education Standards, this innovative curriculum provides all the information and resources needed to teach students about how alcohol affects teen bodies and brains, including their ability to make decisions. This DVD-based curriculum also provides a powerful tool to help teens lean and practice the steps to making decisions in difficult situations involving alcohol.

Many other products from our SBIR funding can be viewed at shop.danya.com. You also can check out our videos on the Danya YouTube Channel.

Danya20: Our CEO Talks About Celebrating 20 Years of Shaping Healthy Futures

Photo of Jeff Hoffman, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Danya International

Jeff Hoffman, Ph.D.
Danya Founder and CEO

May 17, 2016, will mark Danya International’s 20th anniversary. Founded in 1996 by Jeff Hoffman, Ph.D., our company’s journey began in, of all places, our CEO’s basement. While his daughter Daniella watched Under the Umbrella Tree and his son Yaniv played with Legos and pirate ships on the floor above him, Jeff started writing the government contract and grant proposals that continue to be the backbone of Danya’s business to this day. Jeff named his startup “Danya”—a blending of his children’s names, including his youngest Daphna, that reflected that this company would be a personal and impactful change, both for Jeff’s life and for the lives of those he hoped to reach through Danya’s work.

The rest, of course, is history. Danya continues to make positive changes through contracts and grants that allow us to help reduce addictions, prevent diseases, promote the health and education of young children and their families, and promote diversity and inclusion in everything we do. With a company philosophy of “Innovative Solutions for Social Impact,” we have embraced six core social impact goals that we conceived a decade ago and that continue to drive us in our search for new and socially significant projects:

  • Improving child, family, and public health
  • Improving public and behavioral health education and training
  • Improving the quality of comprehensive early childhood education
  • Reducing hunger and increasing food security
  • Reducing the impact of HIV infections and other infectious diseases
  • Reducing tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use and addictions

To help us kick off our anniversary celebrations, Jeff recently took some time to discuss some of the joys and accomplishments of growing Danya throughout these past two decades.

How would you describe your experience running the company?
JH:
Overall, it has been very exciting and fulfilling to run a social impact company, working in so many different important health and education areas. It has been an honor to work hand-in-hand with government agencies and personnel, to help them accomplish their public service goals.

Looking back at the past 20 years, what would you say is Danya’s greatest accomplishment?
JH:
There have been a number of accomplishments. We’ve worked closely with the Office of Head Start to improve the overall accountability and monitoring of Head Start grantees around the country, which we believe is resulting in improved education and comprehensive care for children and their families in Head Start.

We’ve accomplished many communication and training goals with CDC, helping to enhance HIV and other infectious disease prevention around the United States.

We’ve also been able to assist the Navy through their Clinical Preceptorship Program, which provides clinical supervision to their substance abuse counselors on Navy bases around the world, for more than 10 years. It’s been very fulfilling to work with our Armed Forces/military.

And we accomplished a number of goals in East Africa—improving health systems in Kenya, enhancing farming practices, and engaging women in leadership decision-making in farming co-ops in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Are the social impact goals as relevant today as they were 10 years ago?
JH:
Yes, unfortunately—they are still huge problems in our society and around the world. The drug epidemic, for example, has increased in this country recently; and while tobacco use has declined in the United States, it has increased in many countries around the world.

However, there has been tremendous progress in reducing the number of HIV infections and AIDS cases around the world. We’re honored to have made a contribution to this effort.

What do you find most meaningful about Danya’s work?
JH:
When we get feedback from children or families who are positively impacted by our video or web or educational materials, and we see that it helps them live a better life—that is meaningful. We’ve done a lot of work in the area of autism, providing a whole range of educational materials that are available on autismonline.com, that have been enormously helpful to many people around the country.

Where do you see Danya heading?
JH:
We plan to work in partnership with a range of other companies to build on our core capabilities in monitoring and evaluation, training and technical assistance, and marketing and communications to address a wider range of social problems.

Finally, what has been your greatest joy of running the company?
JH:
Working with the staff on these social impact projects. We have had and continue to have some of the most talented, dynamic, and gifted staff, and I enjoy planning, implementing, and problem-solving with the various teams. I also enjoy working with our clients on these issues. I especially like coming up with creative solutions to difficult social problems.

So, there you have it—the people are his favorite part of the business! Happy Anniversary, Danya!