April is Autism Awareness Month, an opportunity to educate people about this very unique way of experiencing the world and to support these individuals who struggle to be understood. One of our colleagues uses his creativity and talent to support families, schools and individuals affected by autism, every day.
Dan Kalinowski is a creative at Digitas Health and the father of a teenager with autism. Five years ago, Dan applied his imagination to tackle challenges that young children with autism face. The result is “Be Like Buddy,” a YouTube series that helps children on the autism spectrum to master the activities of daily living in a way that’s intuitive and enjoyable for them. Having watched his own child struggle to learn, Dan’s goal is to make learning fun—a “preferred activity” for children with autism.
The idea of having a puppet named Buddy display the proper way to tackle a challenge originated when his son was just five years old. At this time, Dan saw the differences grow between his son and his son’s “neurotypical” classmates. Dan then had to learn exactly what autism was and what the future might look like.
One day, Dan and his son were watching a comedy video that was made for the Digitas Health holiday party. It featured puppet versions of DH employees acting silly. His son had the time of his life watching and imitating this video, which gave Dan an idea.
Dan sat down at his Mac with a puppet and made a potty training video for his son. His son was potty trained in less than 24 hours. “Well, this is interesting,” Dan said. His son was preparing to go into preschool, so he made another video called “listening to the teacher” which, again, had instant results. Several years later, with a professional video team, a specially designed puppet and a behavior specialist aboard, Dan debuted the pilot episodes of “Be Like Buddy” on YouTube. These effective, fun-to-watch videos are now viewed more than 3,000 times per week in homes and classrooms around the world.
Dan studied filmmaking at New York University/Tisch School of the Arts and learned even more about filmmaking and storytelling while working at Digitas Health. Today, Dan continues to produce videos to demystify autism and help meet the needs of children with autism and their caregivers. He often receives online feedback from teachers, parents and clinicians. “Be Like Buddy” was featured in Resources for Special Needs Handbook in 2015.
Today, Dan continues to expand the “Be Like Buddy” series, supporting children with autism and helping them overcome daily challenges. To see the series and share them, visit: