Road safety in children with Down Syndrome

Road safety in children with Down Syndrome


Mission Street is a Road Safety Education Virtual Game for kids with Down syndrome which attends to their peculiarities and learning needs to develop habits and routines that enable them to function safely along the roadways of the city.

The ideas

Here at Gimnasio Los Caobos we are working on Project Based Learning (PBL). Students from ninth grade have the challenge to become builders of the 21st century. They must search for an issue or necessity, and find a solution or achieve satisfaction through an innovative product or service, using the tools provided by design thinking. In the first stage (empathize) a student group explored different issues, and became empathic with children who have Down syndrome. This occurred because Santiago Montes, one of the participants, has a 12 year old sister with Down syndrome and she almost suffered an accident due to her lack of awareness of road safety. In the research, participants found that in Colombia, during 2015, there were 5,704 deaths and 39,318 people injured in traffic accidents. Traffic accidents are the main cause of death in children from ages 5 to 14. Unfortunately there are no records in Colombia that specify the percentage of children with Down syndrome affected.
In the following stage (define) students decided to work on a project to improve road safety for children with Down syndrome. In order to do this, they visited the Colombian Corporation of Down Syndrome to get support and information about the focus group of their research and also to have a chance to interact with the kids. The director of the Corporation, Dr. Marcela Fernández, considered this project essential, and offered students all of her support for the development of the project.
Students also received the support of a psychologist who offered them necessary information on the cognitive and emotional characteristics of children with Down syndrome, as well as their specific learning needs. She gave them a series of academic documents, in order to facilitate the participant’s knowledge of the topic.
The next step was to acquire information about road safety in Colombia, including basic concepts, available statistics, and common causes of accidents. Participants also studied the National Plan for Road Safety 2014-2021, focusing on the excerpts about disability. They interviewed Carlos Eduardo Mendoza, ex-Secretary of the Transportation Ministry, who informed them that, in Colombia, there are no statistics regarding the amount of Down syndrome children who have fallen victim to traffic accidents. He also informed us that the Colombian government lacks educational projects or strategies aimed towards helping DS children because, in spite of being included under the category of disability, there are no documents focusing on their specific needs, nor a designated budget to work on such matters.

Two essential needs were detected:
• Road vulnerability in kids. In Colombia, the main cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 12 are traffic accidents. The amount of DS children affected remains unknown.
• Dependency and low autonomy in people with DS. According to statistics from the National Administrative Department of Statistics, there are two-million-six-hundred-thousand people with disability in Colombia (9% with Down syndrome), out of which about 20% have access to a job, and 14.5% have access to education. The remaining percentages are secluded at home.
This information allowed the students to conclude that it is necessary to offer an educational strategy focused on working with the particular needs of Down syndrome children regarding road safety.

The initiatives

To acquire and develop road safety habits and routines in an independent and safe manner while in the city.
• To know how to walk on the street and safely cross the road.
• To know how to walk alone or along with someone else in an adequate manner.
• To identify, differentiate and apply the knowledge of preventative, prohibitive and informative traffic signs aimed towards pedestrians.
• To identify road area social and environmental responsible behaviors

The third stage (Ideate) focused on analyzing the causes behind the accidents and the vulnerability of Down syndrome children when they are not aware of road safety habits and patterns. Students decided to create an educational project at a formative and preventive level that would allow kids to learn through a virtual simulation of a city. After studying multiple possibilities, it was decided to implement an on-line platform with interactive educational games known as Serious Games, which could develop and reinforce necessary skills for children with Down syndrome between the ages of 6 and 12.
The idea behind the game is to simulate being a character that has to walk around everyday locations and earn achievements by accomplishing different missions. The player controls a character that moves around by foot, and must follow all road safety norms and precautions (e.g. traffic lights, crosswalks, among others) so she may arrive safely to her destination. As the player fulfills all different achievements, she unlocks new locations to visit as well as new missions. Once the player completes all missions and earns all possible achievements, she has won the game.

Game dynamics:
1. The player picks the character he or she identifies with the most. He starts at his house, where he receives his first mission in order to get started.
2. The player is guided through the city using a map which will indicates the road to follow, so he may arrive at his destination. All of this must be done while following all road safety norms and conventions. During the game, in public spaces, roads and social and environmental responsible behaviors are identified.
3. Once the player arrives to his or her destination, he/she will be assigned with a specific mission that must be fulfilled in order to get an achievement.
4. After the mission is completed, the player must return home, or the location specified by the game. The game reminds the player how to do all activities successfully.

During the last stage (Prototype) students wrote a letter to Professor Baltasar Fernández Manjon from the Department of Software Engineering and Artificial Intelligence of the Complutense University of Madrid to ask him for his support on the project. The professor liked it, and assigned them a researcher from his team, Mrs. Ana Rus Cano, who is currently working on a doctoral thesis on games for Down syndrome youths. She has been offering her support via Skype so as to develop a working prototype of the game that is to be later produced by a game designer.
Right now, students are working with a game designer to make their project a reality. Also, to test the game, they have developed a simulation board, so they may play it with Down syndrome kids. They also tested it with preschool children without Down syndrome, and it has been demonstrated to be useful when it comes to developing road safety habits and routines.
Mission Street, which started as a classroom exercise, has become a project to benefit children with Down syndrome due to the dedicated work, persistence and determination of the students involved during nine months of hard work. Their enthusiasm has persuaded the Down Syndrome Corporation, teachers of the institution, national and international professionals from different areas, political authorities and parents to join in this adventure. The persistence to develop the game has been continuous because the students have no doubt about the importance of improving road safety for these children and their families in order to enable them to become more autonomous and independent.

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