Natasha D’Souza is the recipient of a $50,000 neuroscience entrepreneurial fellowship given by the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) in partnership with Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

D’Souza’s fellowship is one of 10 Ontario post-graduate fellowships to help entrepreneurs turn their neuro-discoveries into companies and jobs. D’Souza is a 2012 graduate of Carleton’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) program.

“Natasha joined the TIM program with a purpose – to launch and grow her company,” said Steven Muegge, her graduate project supervisor and a professor with the Sprott School of Business. “She graduated with an engineering degree in one hand and a new technology business in the other.  Her graduate project examined business models to provide technology and services for children with special needs, and her company is the commercialization of that work.”

D’Souza has more than 15 years of industry experience and advises businesses, organizations and individuals on the optimization of their business strategies. She is the founder and CEO of Virtual EyeSee.

She is in the last stages of developing an innovative therapy app for children with special needs called Zeely Adventures. Children are motivated by the engaging game-based approach to recognize and interpret facial expressions.

The TIM program is a unique master’s program for innovative engineers that focuses on creating wealth at the early stages of company or opportunity life cycles.

Mobile app designed by Ottawa mom tackles autism

Ottawa East News  | By Jennifer McIntosh  | January 2014

A Kanata mom is using her engineering expertise to help improve education for children with autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Natasha D’Souza, who recently received a master’s in technology innovation management, said it was her experience as a mother of a son with special needs that prompted her to work out a system to help him learn social skills.

“The medical system is very drug-based,” D’Souza said. “And that wasn’t for us.”

There are holes in the education system as well, D’Souza said, adding social skills simply aren’t taught anymore, due to dwindling resources and limited staff.

“The metrics are out of whack,” she said.

For example, the worker assigned to help her son master skills to keep in pace with his classmates, spends time teaching him how to use scissors. “Is that the best use of her time?” D’Souza asked.

So, a little more than a year ago, she decided to use her expertise as an engineer and the unique opportunity her hands-on program at Carleton University offered to develop a product that would guide children and help them to learn social skills – something often lacking in kids with autism and Asperger’s because they don’t know how to interpret facial expressions.

“I get a lot of notes home because he would smirk at the teacher when she was angry, but it’s because he didn’t understand the expression,” D’Souza said.

It’s that type of roadblock that inspired the creation of an app called Zeely’s Adventures. Zeely is an alien who recently landed on earth and is looking to understand friendship. He is guided by his sidekick Obo.

The group of programmers and engineers who helped D’Souza all had children with special needs, she said.

“They knew the value of balancing the learning part with making the game fun,” she said.

The game, which D’Souza hopes to launch on the Apple App Store before the end of January, was partially funded by the Ontario Brain Institute.

Aside from offering an alternative to pill-based treatment of disorders, she hopes to change the conversation around support for special needs children.

“As a parent, you hope to give your child the best future possible, so you often have no more hobbies, because you are shuffling kids two hours each way for a day camp to learn about social skills,” D’Souza said.

“But whatever you do has to be consistent to work. Whatever the parent is doing has to be replicated at school.”

For more information about the app, visit the site zeelyadventures.com.

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