Using technology to support neurodiversity and education

February 9, 2024
Two children play with woman in white coat

Yejin Choi, CEO of Dubu and Generation17 Young Leader, volunteered as a tutor for under-resourced children after realizing that many, especially those with learning differences, lack proper educational resources.

Photo: Dubu

Education is vital to ensure a better future for children. But can we provide the same educational tools for everyone? The answer is complex. On this International Day for Women and Girls in Science, I want to share the importance of using technology to support children's learning.  

As part of my experience as a tutor and cognitive therapist, I realized that many children, especially those with learning differences, lack proper educational resources. In 2017 I co-founded a tech startup called DoBrain to provide more resources to children with learning differences. Recently we changed our company's name, to Dubu, which signifies "diversity understanding for better universe". 

I'm driven by a passion for using technology to tackle social issues. That's why I created a social enterprise. I aim to support families, parents, and tutors raising neurodiverse children. High-quality educational resources should be available for everyone. Women tend to take most of the caregiving work, which, as we know, has caused gender inequalities. Through Dubu, I want to provide additional support to them, and all the caregivers who dedicate a vast amount of time to taking care of their beloved children. We're dedicated to using technology to improve these families' lives. 

Dubu brand

Dubu offers digital healthcare for child development.

Photo: Dubu

 Overcoming four hurdles 

Individuals face neurodiversity in many ways. It can affect cognitive, sensory, and behavioural functions. Approximately 1 in 6 people experience such differences, including conditions like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other developmental challenges. Each neurodiverse child presents a unique combination of strengths, struggles, and needs, contributing significantly to our society. 

1. Navigating complexity 

For families with neurodiverse children, the journey often feels like flying an airplane without a manual. It's emotionally taxing, demanding continuous adaptation and learning. Unfortunately, a shortage of mental health professionals leaves many parents without adequate support. In the United States, the demand for child psychiatrists far exceeds the available professionals, leaving many families struggling to obtain accurate diagnoses and appropriate treatments. 

2. The financial strain 

Caring for a neurodiverse child can bring significant financial burdens. Many parents struggle to maintain dual-income households due to the time and resources needed to support their child's unique needs. The costs of therapies, specialized education, and other interventions can devour a substantial portion of a family's income. 

3. Rising societal costs 

Addressing these challenges needs policies and investments at both local and national levels. However, meeting the increasing demand is challenging, especially considering the high societal costs associated with neurodiversity. There are over one billion neurodiverse and developmentally challenged children, a number that continues to grow, due to improved awareness and diagnosis.  

4. Harnessing technology 

A long-term perspective and proactive investments in research and development (R&D) are essential. The private and public sectors must come together to tackle the challenges. Companies like Dubu, recognized as a Tech Pioneer at the 2021 World Economic Forum, are leveraging digital solutions. By providing digital screening tools and options, Dubu aims to increase accessibility and alleviate existing economic and geographical burdens.

Introducing Dubu child 

I have been concerned about the educational gap and discrepancies among children all my life. At Dubu, we designed a digital application which provides a finely tuned curriculum to boost their core cognitive skills. With over 20,000 cognitive training modules, this curriculum is personalized to each child's unique developmental status using machine learning algorithms. This contrasts with the traditional approach, where therapists individually assess children and create personalized educational content. The Dubu app can be downloaded from major mobile application markets like Google play

The Dubu app's effectiveness has been affirmed through five clinical studies in South Korea. Studies at Seoul National University Hospital demonstrated significant developmental progress among children using the app. 

Introducing Dubu parent

Two women at medical clinic

Dubu is a data-driven personalized intervention, powered by a holistic analysis, which helps parents give their neurodiverse children the best possible education.

Photo: Dubu

Dubu's synchronous virtual coaching equips parents with therapist knowledge and skills. It encompasses home-based programmes covering language, behaviour, self-care, and cognition. 

Numerous studies have already demonstrated the effectiveness of conventional parental education for development disorders. However, this traditional education is generally theory-driven and offers standardized content, overlooking the diversity of each child. 

What distinguishes Dubu is its data-driven personalized intervention, powered by a holistic analysis of the child's development-related data. 

Parents share their child’s videos with therapists who guide them remotely. They gather a range of data from parents, including the child's developmental progress, distinctive traits, preferences, and more. 

Using technology for good

During COVID-19, we joined forces with South Korea’s National Information Society Agency. We provided our app free to over 8,000 special education classes and homes. One student’s parent wrote; "Living on an island, caring for children solely at home was incredibly difficult, and Zoom classes meant nothing to our son. But having this personalized app for our child made us truly happy and fortunate." 

Through Dubu I aim to support parents, families, and caregivers who feel alone raising their children. I aim to double our annual R&D budget for developing technology for neurodiverse children each year. In five years, we aspire to be the company with the highest R&D budget for neurodiverse children, and in ten years, we hope to have the highest R&D budget for neurodiverse children worldwide. 

Tacking the greatest challenges of the Agenda 2030 relies on the talent of everyone. That includes women, like me, eager to make a change through research and technology. Education is a powerful tool. If we boost it with technology, it can become the most powerful tool for creating a more equitable world.