Jessica Dunne and Emma Brancatisano 10daily.com.au
A passionate young schoolboy has used his own struggles with anxiety to invent a soft toy that could help other kids manage the condition.
Nikolas is 12 and loves playing the drums and building robots. His favourite movie, ‘Wonder’, tells the story of a young boy born with facial differences as he struggles to fit in at school.
Nikolas said the boy’s struggles and his experience of anxiety make the film “relatable”. It’s one he has also shared for the past two years.
“I’ve had anxiety due to bullying, learning difficulties and starting a new school,” he told 10 daily.
“I struggled coping and making friends. I was sweating a lot … and overworking my body when it shouldn’t be.”
Nikolas has learnt to manage his symptoms through breathing exercises, meditation and squeezing a stress ball when he’s anxious.
But he thinks the issue is not being talked about enough.
Nikolas said he wanted to come up with a way to help other kids manage the condition through technology.
He came up with a design for ‘Bubbles the Helping Hand’ — a soft “therapy dog” that that can detect symptoms and help kids work through them.
“Imagine a furry dog, a very cute one that is soft and calming,” Nikolas said.
‘Bubbles’ has a touch sensor that detects the level of the child’s anxiety. It has an auto sense camera that can scan text and read to the child along with ears that are made of thermo plastic rubber — similar to a stress ball.
Nikolas entered his design into the Mastercard Innovation challenge, a nationwide search for young minds that challenges them to solve problems with technology.
He has now been shortlisted as one of three finalists and will be flown to the Australian Open on January 30 to present his ideas to a panel of experts.
Former Australian tennis player and coach Darren Cahill will also be on hand to judge the competition.
Other finalists’ ideas included a hologram educational program that could be projected into regional and rural classrooms and an app that could locate and feed people who are homeless.
Nikolas, from Sydney, said he’s “so excited” to be heading to Melbourne.
His mother Evelyn told 10 daily she was incredibly proud of her son and how he has opened her eyes to the struggles of living with anxiety.
“We always knew he was a bright little boy, but this blew us all away. We thought it was such a beautiful and clever thing to come up with,” she said.
The winner will receive a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education package worth $5,000 for themselves and their class.
“Mastercard is really passionate about STEM, because that is where the next generation of innovators and thinkers are going to come from,” a Mastercard expert said.
It follows new research conducted by Mastercard and Pure Profile that found 80 percent of surveyed young people were concerned about the future.
According to the online survey of more than 500 Australian children aged between 8 and 15, their main concerns were cost of living, plastic waste, climate change, droughts and their family’s health and wellbeing.
But the younger generation believe technology is the answer to future problems.
Sixty-nine percent believe technology, innovation and new inventions could help solve their worries about the future, while 83 percent of those surveyed said technology can be used to make the world a better place.