The Helping Hoodie

A smart hoodie for wearable hugs to help children with autism ease symptoms of sensory overload in schools and their communities.

Photo of TEAM C.A.P.E
2 6

Written by

Additional categories (optional)

  • Technology

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Instagram: @thehelpinghoodie

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

A major problem facing those with autism is sensory overload, a condition affecting 96% of children with ASD. It occurs when one or more of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment, such as loud noises, bright lights, or large crowds. These triggers cause children to shut down, lash out, or even run away, all of which can be extremely dangerous for both the child and those around them.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our solution is The Helping Hoodie: a product designed to calm users down during sensory overload, specifically by soothing the parasympathetic nervous system. Our hoodie uses a weighted compression system that simulates a hug, calming nerves and blocking out excess light, all while looking sleek and feeling comfortable. Our Helping Hoodie can be broken into three parts: the hood, the hug, and the help. First, the lengthened “hood” allows for a functional yet fashionable design that blocks flashing overhead lights that can initiate symptoms. Then comes “the hug,” our specialized compression system that simulates a weighted vest without profiling or limiting the individual. The compression system works on a pretty basic yet efficient design, powered by a 9V battery. A specialized shaft attachment allows for a fishing line to be drawn between two gel pads, used for their comfort and durability. This fishing line attaches to two DC small motors, creating a cost-efficient system that allows for the compression without alerting those around the user to the device’s use. Finally, “the help,” which allows the individual to gain independence, is, the goal of our product.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

The impetus for our project was our community partner, Larry Dierker, a high-functioning young adult living with Autism. His favorite color is red, he loves riding his bike, and he is a huge fan of Taylor Swift. We first connected with him when volunteering at the Kristin Farmer Autism Center. We all quickly became friends, through mutual interests like concerts and superhero shows, and after listening to his childhood struggles with autism and sensory overload, we wanted to make a difference in his life and millions of children living with autism now. We didn’t know how at first; through many meetings with Larry and his mother Nancy, we learned that currently available products on the market, primarily weighted vests, were not suited properly to young adults and inadvertently profiled him. We realized that could be our radical new approach, and thus, the Helping Hoodie was born.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...” (same copy, but just in case the youtube vid link is broken)

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Originally, ProjectInvent was simply a group of six teens living in the same complex who had a few commonalities: we wanted to help people and we had the drive to do it, but not the know-how or connection. Larry, when he became involved in our project, changed everything for us. Mainly, we had now found someone to connect us across that same commonality, and we routinely began to meet with Larry to discuss his life, challenges, and even good and happy moments, like the TSwift concert he attended. Driving us forward, we produced multiple prototypes to bring Larry at these meetings, at which the atmosphere near changed when he wore them. Our entire project became very person-focused, allowing us to clear small hurdles and goals much easier than if we attempted to be too broad in scope, and with this new narrow focus, brought our now seven person team, Larry included, together.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

While working with Larry, we talked about a product he used in the past, the weighted vest. This is the most popular and best solution on the market, but it is bulky and noticeable and draws unwanted attention to the wearer heightening the symptoms of sensory overload even further. Learning from the drawbacks in the design, but still incorporating the method of compression, we designed and prototyped The Helping Hoodie. We want to integrate the compression into an inconspicuous piece of clothing to prevent the profiling and bullying that may come with weighted vests or other assistive devices.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We have raised $6200 total, including $2200 from the Kurt Giessler Ambition Grant, the top prize of $1500 at the National Project Invent competition Demo Day at Stanford University, and a $2500 GoFundMe campaign including $1000 from the GoFundMe Gives Back Happiness Team. As of right now, we are still working on our second stage of prototyping after establishing a proof of concept back at our design review day. In March, we held a design review day to showcase the proof of concept of our product to several children and young adults with ASD, and received a lot of positive feedback. The impact our product can have is immense and has been proven from the reviews we have received.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Having spent roughly $2200 raised on initial prototyping, marketing, and travel costs, we will now use the remaining $4000 to create our website, continue research, and further our prototyping. We want to complete our final prototype by the beginning of the 2020 summer, and raise more money to start partnerships and manufacturing of our first hoodies to begin selling in early 2021. Throughout this time, we will continue marketing efforts to spread our mission. The hoodie roughly costs $85 to make and will be sold at $130 but is subject to change based on potential changes to the design. We want to make the hoodie as affordable as possible while also having a profitable business to continue our mission of combating sensory overload.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Design

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others


Join the conversation:

Photo of Game Changers

I think this is such a unique approach to a common problem! I can't wait to see what you do with this in the future!

Photo of TEAM C.A.P.E

Thank you!