In a Nutshell: Otsimo is an ad-free educational experience designed for students with autism and other learning disabilities. Its game-based learning approach keeps learners engaged and improves their ability to concentrate on building cognitive and motor skills. The Otsimo speech therapy app deploys video modeling to allow nonverbal users to see and hear spoken words so they can mimic pronunciations. Otsimo offers a variety of subscription models, and its mission is to bring effective digital learning tools to children with learning disabilities around the world.
When Zafer Elcik was 10, his 2-year-old brother was diagnosed with severe, nonverbal autism. He didn’t speak, had trouble focusing, and struggled with reading as he grew older. But when Elcik got his first smartphone, the gadget captured his brother’s attention, and he would focus on the device much longer than anything else in his environment.
So Elcik bought his brother an iPad as a gift, hoping it would improve his concentration. But he couldn’t find apps suitable for learners with special needs. Seeing an opportunity that demanded a solution, he teamed up with a friend to develop a simple educational app that helped his brother successfully learn to differentiate colors. The boy’s interest in digital media, and his success in learning, inspired the team to expand the app.
That project evolved into Otsimo, a mobile learning platform designed to engage and educate nonverbal students and other learners with special needs.
“He tried to look for other resources for special education on the market, but he was unable to find any,” said Hira Noor, Digital Marketing Specialist at Otsimo. “And the ones he found were either too expensive, or had ads that weren’t suitable for special-education students who may have trouble with attention.”
Otsimo accommodates those learners. It consists of two core offerings: the Otsimo special education games app, and a speech therapy app. Together, they help children improve their speech, and cognitive and motor skills from the comfort of their own homes.
The app is also ad-free to eliminate distractions so students can focus on developing crucial skills that will improve their overall quality of life.
Games Provide Customized Educational Experiences
Otsimo’s game-based app focuses on individualized education. Based on user performance, it recommends games to help build new skills while providing a unique, tailored learning experience.
“It designs a customized learning path and offers new games as the child progresses,” Noor said.
The app is entirely game-based, which encourages learners with autism and other developmental disabilities to maintain focus and improve their attention spans. Each activity builds particular skills and aid in cognitive development, motor skills, and other areas. The interactivity and playful nature of the lessons offer a more effective approach than traditional classroom education.
“Children with special needs may have trouble focusing on things and have limited attention spans,” Noor said. “Gamification helps them maintain focus. It may be harder for them to do that when they’re reading a book or writing something. Games are more engaging.”
In addition to its wide variety of activities, Otsimo also features adjustable levels of difficulty. That is where the app’s machine-learning component comes into play. Otsimo collects data and analyzes the performance of users, then identifies areas in which they’re struggling or aren’t challenged enough.
“The difficulty level can automatically adjust within the app, but the parents can also choose a certain level how they see fit for their child,” Noor said. “They can also monitor what their children are playing and select the games they want their child to play. Everything is completely customizable.”
Speech Therapy and AAC Apps Enhance Communication
Like Elcik’s brother, as many as 40% of autistic children are nonverbal, according to the CDC. Others exhibit delayed use of language. Most children with autism go on to develop language proficiency, according to a study conducted by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, with nearly half becoming fluent and two-thirds speaking in simple phrases.
Otsimo’s speech therapy app helps children surpass these thresholds and successfully develop language skills. The method is based on video modeling. The learner watches a video of another child reading vocabulary words out loud and then mimics the model.
The app includes multiple categories of vocabulary, including animal sounds and names, numbers, and colors. It also incorporates fun, interactive features like filters and stickers that encourage participation in the activities and enthusiasm for learning.
The speech therapy app also incorporates a machine-learning component like Otsimo’s games. As the students mimic the model, the app listens and evaluates their progress as they practice pronunciation and vocabulary.
“There’s a bar that fills if the child is saying the correct word,” Noor said. “If the child is not progressing as fast as he or she should, the bar fills kind of slowly. That’s how parents can make sure they can keep track of how their child is progressing.”
Otsimo also offers an Augmentative Alternative Communication app to enhance and facilitate communication in nonverbal autistic users. The tool is open-source and free to Otsimo users and non-subscribers alike on both Android and iOS.
“AAC can be any form of communication that is nonverbal and is often used to enhance standard communication methods,” said Elcik. “It is leveraged with technology which is particularly helpful for children with autism.”
Premium Accounts Expand Access to Resources and Support
Those who are interested in testing Otsimo out can sign up for a seven-day free trial. The trial provides access to a select number of games that help parents evaluate whether the platform is a good fit for their child before committing to a paid subscription. Like the paid offering, the free version contains no advertisements, which effectively limits distractions that can divert users from activities and hinder their learning ability.
Parents who want to pursue education through Otsimo can sign up for one of three subscriptions. A monthly option is available at $20.99, or parents can save some money and sign up for a full year at a reduced price of $13.99 per month. And if they want to commit for the long term, they can save even more, as lifetime access is available for a one-time fee of $229.99.
One parent who recently subscribed to Otsimo contacted the company to offer some glowing feedback.
“Otsimo is a godsend for me and my child — with school out of session, I can’t afford therapy over summer, so its a relief knowing that I can continue my child’s education using the family iPad,” the parent said.
Every package grants full access to Otsimo offerings, including more than 100 games and activities, video modeling-based speech therapy lessons, and compatibility with Amazon Alexa. Parents also gain access to daily, customized reports that allow them to see how well their child engages with the app and progresses in their education.
Subscribers also enjoy 24/7 access to Otsimo customer support. Representatives can answer questions and help sort out issues or problems while also gaining valuable insight that is passed along to the app’s developers.
“They’re constantly improving the games using the feedback we get,” Noor said. “The app is also updated frequently. So any bugs or lag or anything the app may be experiencing, we fix it immediately.”
Otsimo: Solutions for Every Learner with Special Needs
In March 2020, schools began closing their doors amid increasing public health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic. As children transitioned to online learning, students with special needs often found themselves separated from the classroom environment and the specialists trained to help meet their educational needs.
According to Noor, that has resulted in a greater demand for the Otsimo app, which now has more than 200,000 users worldwide.
“People are more inclined to use the app because it’s very convenient,” Noor said. “It provides a good curriculum-based education in the comfort of your home.”
Otsimo’s primary focus has been on the U.S., Canadian, U.K., and Australian markets. But Otsimo aims to expand its reach soon.
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children worldwide fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, meaning the need for specialized learning tools is global. Children with developmental disabilities live in every nation, and Otsimo is dedicated to bringing them targeted learning solutions.
“With 1 in 160 children being identified with autism, we cannot stand idly by and not take action to actually support these individuals. It’s not that people with autism don’t need or appreciate ‘awareness’, but rather they need tools that promote continuous learning and development for basic skills like reading, writing, math, colors, and more,” Elcik said. “Autism does not call for heartbreak or pity. It calls for action and accountability from the peer community to provide continuous and accessible programs and services.”
“We are working very hard on these apps and as a team,” Elcik continued. “We would like to ensure that every child around the world who is struggling with special needs gets the education they deserve.”