See Beneath Inc. helps children with autism reach communication milestones

See Beneath co-founder Gerin Gaskin with Aiko, who inspired the animation of ‘Aiko & Egor,’ at the National Foundation for Autism Research’s San Diego Race for Autism.
See Beneath co-founder Gerin Gaskin with Aiko, who inspired the animation of ‘Aiko & Egor,’ at the National Foundation for Autism Research’s San Diego Race for Autism.

By Kelley Carlson

See Beneath Inc. has surfaced as one of the newest resources for children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The organization, officially established as a nonprofit in January, plans to offer educational tools for children diagnosed with, or at risk for, the developmental disabilities and their families. It provides ways for parents to help their kids reach milestones in social skills and communication — areas impacted by ASD.

An animated video titled “Aiko & Egor” is See Beneath’s first product, which follows a purple whale and a bright orange blowfish in their underwater adventures. The pilot episode focuses on object imitation, gross motor imitation and gesture imitation, with a goal of effectively teaching children one skill from each category, according to See Beneath co-founder Gerin Gaskin.

“We’re creating an opportunity (for learning) in the home setting,” Gaskin said.

The team behind See Beaneath is composed of local residents — and roommates — Gaskin and Jim Turner, and Casey Hoffman of San Diego.

Gaskin and Hoffman are both employed in the UCSD Autism Intervention Research Program as early childhood interventionists. Gaskin had worked with adults with disabilities for three years and volunteered at the Autism Center for Excellence before taking on her current position. Hoffman, who also serves as the research program’s lab coordinator, earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCSD and is now working on his master’s of global leadership at the University of San Diego.

Turner is the owner of event/flower design studio Blackbird Flowers in Encinitas, and has assisted a number of nonprofits through art direction and project management over the years. In addition, he has written and performed education-based materials for more than 10,000 children.

It was personal experience that inspired Gaskin’s work in autism research, and eventually helped lead to the creation of See Beneath. When her brother was a child, he was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication. Symptoms tend to vary for each individual, and can range from mild to severe — hence the “spectrum.”

The Gaskin family often encountered difficulties finding the necessary services their son needed. Consequently, they moved all around the country, and over time discovered that California was one of the best locations for resources.

This challenge eventually served as motivation for Gaskin to take action.

“It’s inspired us ... to reach people who don’t have 12 hours of therapy allotted to them every week,” said Gaskin.

The idea to form a nonprofit began several years ago, after she and Turner led a food drive. When it proved successful, the two — who have been close friends for the last six years — began brainstorming about other projects on which they could collaborate.

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The ‘Aiko & Egor’ characters include Wade the seahorse, Egor the blowfish, Aiko the whale, and Lydia the clam.

Reaching out to the autism community seemed to be the natural choice, after they realized there weren’t many learning tools available for young children diagnosed with the disability. Gaskin had been working alongside Hoffman at UCSD, treating children under the age of 3 who were at risk for autism. And Turner had plenty of experience with nonprofits.

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