Zafer Elcik

@zafer-elcik | contributor
Because my brother has autism, I created Otsimo, an education app for children with special needs.
Community Voices

It Started with My Brother, and Now We Are One Big Family

It only takes one. One person to urge you to make a change. One person to give you inspiration, an inspiration to create something that will end up helping thousands.

My brother was diagnosed when he was two. Back then, when I was a child myself, I had little to no knowledge about what autism was and how to deal with it. I grew up and went through this journey with him.

Autism is a developmental disorder. I learned that there was no “cure” for it, and early and intensive education was our best option to provide my little brother a normal life. The special education options were both lacking and expensive. Once I realised his interest in my smartphone, I decided to buy him an iPad on this birthday. That’s when everything changed, we had another means to teach my brother. I wanted to make the best of this opportunity and tried to find suitable games for him. Unfortunately, it was an unsuccessful attempt. I wanted to communicate with him so badly. The communication apps (AAC) were too expensive, games were not suitable for children with autism, or too difficult to figure out.

This never sat right with me. How could there be no specific app designed for children with autism? An app that would not cause sensory-overload and be distracting for a disorder that affects one in 59 children? I was inspired. With my background in computer science, I was able to build a basic game to teach colors to my brother. I remember my heart filling with joy and hope when he was able to distinguish colors in such a short period of time compared to his past performance.

His interest in the game as well as the success he had with it boosted my inspiration. I built Otsimo, a mobile education platform for children with disabilities, especially autism, so that every child can benefit from the game. I set out to provide a decent special education at home to my brother. This, I realised, was the missing component in his learning process. After using it to support his special education at home, now, I’m proud to say that my brother is verbal, can read and write. He is happy. He is connected.

With our applications, we have reached hundreds of thousands of families and education specialists in 188 countries across the world. This digital tool allowed people to provide their children with special needs special education and speech therapy at their own home. What keeps us going is the daily messages we receive from the parents telling us how our apps helped their children learn to speak, learn colors and everyday items. Through our platform, we also wanted to inform everyone seeking to know more about the disorder on understanding autism and what it takes to improve the quality of life for those with the disorder. We grew with the feedback we received from the families. Each game is designed to develop a certain skill, like holistic reasoning and abstract thinking. They are developed under supervision of child psychologists and experts. Every step we took since the foundation of Otsimo has been to get one step closer to democratizing autism education.

It only takes one. My brother was the one for me. And through the inspiration he gave me, I have managed to create an app that ended up helping over 200,000 families in their journeys. As a team, we strive to provide accessible and affordable, individualized special education that is essential to each and every child who needs it. I hope my story about my “one” has also inspired you to take action in this journey.


Zafer Elcik

Education App for Children With Autism

My brother was diagnosed with severe autism when he was 2 years old. I was 10 back then. I didn’t know what autism was, but I realized he needed more help of his family compared to others. He had been non-verbal and unable to read for a long time. I remember those days when we wanted him to speak a word. We learned that early and intensive education is the best way for learning to live with autism, so he started special education schools. Since special education has still a long way to improve in my country, his education wasn’t very effective. In addition to learning problems, he had stimulus problem behaviors like hitting his head with his hand. I bought dozens of toys and played with him to attract his attention and keep him away from the problem behaviors. I grew up with him. I would take him from his private tutor to the special school every day. Learning a concept could take several months for him. He was having a hard time with focusing and learning. But when I bought my first smartphone, I realized my brother has a special interest in smart devices. He was interested in my smartphone about 10 times longer than his usual level of attention to his surroundings. After that, I bought him an iPad as a gift. Then I noticed a problem. There weren’t suitably designed applications for children with disabilities like his. Some communication apps (AAC) were too expensive, and the games were very difficult for him. Because of that, he could play only a few apps, some of which included harmful ads. I was working in a game company back then, so I decided to build a basic color game to teach colors to my brother. In a relatively short period of time, he became able to distinguish the colors. We had been teaching that concept for two months, but with the game he quickly learned the colors. His interest and success inspired me to build games for every child who can benefit from them, and I created Otsimo, a mobile education platform for children with disabilities, especially autism. We developed more than 50 games with educators and families, and created a free open source AAC communication tool for nonverbal children in different languages, including English and Turkish. Now I realize that the missing component in his learning was the necessary ABA education at home. It’s been four years since we started to support his education with the games I built for Otsimo, and he is verbal, knows how to read and write, and is not having any problem behaviors now. Also, more importantly, he is happier and more connected with us. I hope my story can help you to find your way and inspire you to start your own endeavors. Learn more at Otsimo.