Six jigsaw puzzle pieces on a white background. They are purple, orange, blue, yellow, green and red.

Neurodiversity and designing children’s apps.

Perhaps the greatest lesson we learned from Eric Carle is how what you don’t include in your art matters as much as what you do. Eric’s artwork is renowned for simple backgrounds and the separation of objects and characters on the page.

Negative space draws your eye to the subject of art, allowing it to breathe and to be noticed, especially by young children. Eric’s illustrations are deceptively simple but beautifully considered. His compositions are clear and free of unnecessary clutter.

At StoryToys, we apply this principle not only to our visuals, but to our learning design, music, animations, and everything else that goes into our Eric Carle inspired apps. We intentionally avoid excess and noise in all aspects in how we design Hungry Caterpillar Play School in particular.

Changing the course of a child’s life who has autism can be a rewarding experience, as CEO of Storytoys Emmet O’Neill knows well. He regularly sits down with his neurodivergent nephew to review the app and to get feedback on new content.

Inclusion means designing for ALL kids.

Modern life and the digital world can be distracting. It seems that everything is vying for our attention. Additionally a child with ASD, ADHD or may process information from their senses differently. Many of these children may be unable to filter out irrelevant noises or sight.

That’s why we are always cognisant of how different brains respond to our designs. We know from experience that it’s sometimes easier to give in to the temptation to infuse lessons and games with all the bells and whistles we can think of.

Our goal is to make the complex simple. It is really hard to achieve but it’s worth it when we see the results, especially from parents of children who have learning difficulties.

Though testing our designs on diverse groups of children we know that there is no such thing as a “normal” brain. All children respond and learn in different ways. One size does not fit all, but we can certainly help children by always being cognisant of negative space.

By thinking clearly about what we don’t put into our activities as well as what we do, we can teach more effectively to more children. More than ever the way instructions are presented can be more important than the lesson we are trying to teach.


“Peaceful, beautiful. We bought a new iPad specifically for this app. Our old one didn’t support it well. My son has autism and this is one of our favorites. Thank you!!”

– App Store Review 2018


“Our little boy is two, and struggles with his speech after having a year of multiple ear infections, and limited contact with other children due to covid. He navigates the app so easily ..and it gives us a quick break when things get too much.”

– Rob & Sarah Cockayne, Customer Email, 2020


“This app is important for my kids:
It helps them cope day to day: we can’t live without:”

– App Store Review 2018

A nine square grid. A toy ladybug and a yellow rubber duck are sitting in the front right two grid squares. Along the bottom, below the grid, there's a bar containing green arrows pointing right.
A person wearing a loose-fitting blue and white smock, points up at the sky.
A garden scene from My Very Hungry Caterpillar. There's a tree stump, several plant pots and a watering can.

Finding that sweet spot between overstimulation and understimulation.

While achieving simplicity is important there’s also the other side of the coin: Engagement. If something seems too easy, too simple, or not challenging enough we tend to lose interest. So we are always asking ourselves… How can we facilitate a child achieving that elusive state of flow?

The answer is nearly always the same. Through play. We believe there’s no difference between learning and having fun. Again we take our inspiration from the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Traditionally, children’s literature is a didactic genre. But Eric Carle’s books teach without kids realizing that they’re learning.

It’s common for children with learning difficulties to have limited play, play with only a few toys, or play in a repetitive way. In particular we encourage exploratory play, cause-and-effect play.

We take great care not to punish or scold a child for getting something wrong. We encourage open-play and self-guided discovery. We design our activities to feel like games, to tell a story and to give every child agency in their own learning.

Hungry Caterpillar Play School is accessible for all children by design and strives for a consistent user experience even across different subject matter. Children and adults are different, and children need a design style that follows different usability guidelines. A three year old has more physical and cognitive capabilities than a six year old. For this reason Hungry Caterpillar Play School targets a very narrow age group (3-5). A child of this age will be able to navigate every activity in the app with or without adult supervision.

Why not check out some of our Eric Carle inspired apps?