Magnusmode founder explains how tech can help people with cognitive special needs

magnus cards

Throughout her childhood, Nadia Hamilton and her family helped her brother, Troy, who has Autism, navigate through life at home with step-by-step illustrated guides for everyday activities like brushing teeth.

“Getting dressed can be an overwhelming task for someone like Troy because he’s afraid of making a mistake. He’s afraid of getting to the end of doing whatever he’s doing and finding out he did it wrong,” said Hamilton. “There’s a lot of anxiety surrounding everyday activities for people with cognitive special needs. This keeps them from going through the door and even doing it.”

“Technology is a great equalizer in many respects for Autism and other special needs. They have an affinity for technology.”

Hamilton realized that if Troy could benefit from clear, visual guides, other people like him should too. She’s the founder of Magnusmode, a social venture that develops ‘MagnusCards’ that help support people with cognitive special needs through everyday activities. The Magnus guides users with card decks that include instructions through everyday activities like grocery shopping, using public transit, and cooking.

“Every single stage of design, we focused on user needs,” said Hamilton, who has worked out of Communitech’s ASCEnt program for social cause entrepreneurs. “This is a broad and difficult demographic to build tools for, but we’ve tested and and partnered with groups like Autism Ontario at every single stage of development.”

Hamilton said that while attending university after high school, she felt that she had so many opportunities to pursue what she wanted to do, while her brother was stuck at home as his peers went off to pursue own their dreams. There are many services for young kids growing up with Autism, but there are few bridges to help people like Hamilton’s brother to start living a more independent life as an adult.

Currently, Magnusmode finds support in organizations like the Centre for Social Innovation, NRC-IRAP, and Ontario Centres of Excellence, and has received private investment from the Golden Triangle Angel Network. She’s also working with partners like Tim Hortons, and other Fortune 500 companies, to develop custom card decks that will make these spaces more accessible. As technology becomes an increasingly important extension of almost every person’s life, Hamilton said that it has the potential to transform the way that people with special needs function in society.

“Technology is a great equalizer in many respects for Autism and other special needs. They have an affinity for technology for some reason, so everybody I’ve ever worked with can pick up a gaming controller or iPad, and do things that people might have thought that they could do,” said Hamilton. “It’s supporting people with challenges to communicate, and it’s allowing people who are marginalized to be mobilized.”