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.

Seriously, What is a Calorie?: Using Incentive Appeals and Old-School Techniques to Give Value to the Intangible Nutrition Fact

Fear appeals seldom work in behavior change because, quite frankly, no one knows what it feels like to die. So even when we’re presented with tame fear appeals, like cigarette warning labels that read “may cause lung cancer” or nutrition facts listing high sodium or calorie counts, we shrug it off because we can’t “see” their effects on our weakened lungs or struggling heart (like we could see, say, the results of a broken arm or tattoo). The idea of cigarette tar or a calorie poses no threat to me because I can’t even fathom what it is in its basic form—much less what it may do to my body.

So what if, instead of threatening my life, the appeal threatened my quality of life by actually showing me the threat’s impact on the things that I deem most important? Suddenly, our “out of sight, out of mind” mantra shifts to “I’m still not convinced this thing will kill me in the future, but I understand that it will definitely infringe on my freedom/time/appearance/friends’ approval today!”

Check out the new research from Johns Hopkins University that builds upon this idea:

  • For 6 weeks, researchers posted signs near soda refrigerators in Baltimore stores that told purchasers it would take 50 minutes of running or 5 miles of walking to burn off the 250 calories in the soda they were about to buy.
  • Their report shows a decrease in the number of sodas purchased and an increase in the purchase of smaller sodas (click to see a great infographic of this experiment).
  • The results? Forty percent of those interviewed who noticed the signs said the information changed their decision about what they would buy.
  • Even better? The purchasing effects lasted 6 weeks after the signs were taken down.

But knowledge-increasing and behavior-nudging tools, like the researchers’ posters, are not new, you say. After all, app developers have bottled this idea before and applied it to some of our favorite mobile app downloads, showing us how poor diet decisions will eat away at our daily share of calories and how many Empire State Buildings we have “climbed” when we opt to use the stairs.

Infographic of comparison between calorie information and real-world impact of calories consumed.

The problem? Pulling out a phone and scanning the bar code of a soda to see what impact it will have on my life is an added barrier for those for whom “getting fit” is not top-of-mind and who would buy the drink without thinking twice. For these people, who are literally holding the information-laden nutrition facts in their hands, information is not power. “Calorie” does not mean anything, so its threat falls flat.

For that reason, I really like the researchers’ use, here, of “old-school” techniques (posters, for crying out loud!) to nudge buyers at the point-of-purchase. The purchase power is still in their hands and they still can choose to ignore the sign without taking additional actions, but now “calorie” has more meaning. Nearly everyone buying the soda will see the poster and be reminded how far and time-consuming a 5-mile walk is—finally giving that calorie a face and value. Their soda-purchasing behaviors may not change but, who knows, maybe it will influence their potato-chip intake or TV time or miles walked later. At least now we’ve presented them with information that actually may be relevant to their day-to-day life instead of continuing to list that intangible, not-so-threatening calorie count and expecting it to do all the work.

What do calories “look” like to you? What nudges you to make healthier decisions? Have you seen fear appeals or “old-school” message techniques with positive outcomes?

By Katy Capers

Conducting Market Research? Check Out Some of Our New Favorite Tools

Know your audience!

The first rule across nearly all industries, accomplishing this feat is now easier with emerging tools that tap into today’s growing technological capabilities and capture what your target audience says, wants, and believes. And for health—where knowing what your audience thinks about personal health issues, what information they find most relevant, and how they feel about your brand specifically—this has been no easy accomplishment.

However, new tools span the gamut of information-gathering by tracking behavior, compiling online conversations around certain topics, and tapping into the value of community influencers. These innovative market research tools and others like them will continue to provide insight for health communicators in addressing audience needs.

Image of Curalate logo

Curalate. Through the use of image recognition algorithms, Curalate can identify user-generated images that matter to the audience and help organizations better understand what visuals resonate with them.

Why we like it: Users are communicating with visuals more and more. Ignoring images they share means ignoring valuable, volunteered information.

What this means for health communicators: Highlight the most relevant visuals on social networks and other Web properties to improve engagement.

Image of Truvio logo

Truvio. The Truvio platform allows instant access to the world’s largest panel of consumer health influencers, via the WEGO Health social network. Organizations have the ability to ask volunteer influencers about various health topics and conditions through the volunteer’s mobile phone. The volunteer’s voice response is recorded and archived for researchers.

Why we like it: Tapping into existing communities of health influencers means your respondents are eager to participate and share. Plus, nothing beats hearing the real voice of a real audience member!

What this means for health communicators: Capture the voice and opinions of real consumers for potential use in health campaigns, as well as use findings to inform future planning.

Image of CrazyEgg Logo

CrazyEgg. CrazyEgg has an advanced heat map tool that provides a snapshot of user behavior (on a specific Web site) that goes beyond Google Analytics functionality. Their deeper dive provides information on why users leave a site, what are the popular clicks, and where on the site your viewers are experiencing frustration.

Why we like it: No need for complicated user testing. Just add their code to your site and watch the results come flooding in.

What this means for health communicators: Gain a deeper understanding of user Web behavior and how to improve content based on click rates, navigation, and content selection.

Image of Treato logo

Treato. Treato uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to extract information about medications and health conditions discussed by patients online every day. NLP is able to extract relevant information from blogs and forums, and present it to patients on an ad-free platform without the use of medical jargon the user may not understand.

Why we like it: When patients have a problem with you (or your medication, diagnosis, etc.), they don’t always tell you to your face. Treato does the hard work and tracks down patient opinions where they are sharing them (and where you may have never looked).

What this means for health communicators: Compile patient opinions about specific conditions or medications from across the Web to increase personalization tactics and deliver relevant content based on audience inquiries.

By Katy Capers