About Us

Social Cipher creates social and emotional (SEL) online games and curriculum for neurodivergent youth ages 10-15. As a 40% neurodivergent team founded by an autistic founder, autistic and ADHD perspectives inform game and curriculum development to ensure they are engaging, educational, inclusive, and empowering for neurodivergent youth.

Social Cipher is a part of the LEGO Play for All Accelerator which aims to support companies that are creating products for neurodivergent students. In addition to the LEGO partnership, Social Cipher has won awards and honors such as: MIT Solver, Camelback Education Fellow, NewSchools Venture Fund Fellow, and Facebook Global Gaming Citizens.

The Social Cipher Team standing under a sign that says "Play"The Social Cipher team (3 women, 1 man) standing under a PLAY sign

Our Mission

Social Cipher's mission is to represent and empower youth of all neurotypes, increase their self-advocacy skills, and build their confidence.

At our core, we're committed to:

Using empowering language
We use neurodiversity-affirming language, such as identity-first language, throughout the game and written materials.

Uplifting neurodivergent traits
Our characters and gameplay encourage authenticity and self-confidence by celebrating neurodivergent traits rather than masking them.

Embracing the social model of disability

Neurodivergence consists of disabilities that often require accommodations and support, not cures.

With these values in mind, we are excited to have a curriculum and game that helps neurodivergent youth see themselves positively!

Our Founders

Photo of Vanessa Castaneda Gill

Vanessa Castañeda Gill

CEO & Co-Founder

Vanessa has been recognized as a Forbes 30U30 Education honoree and Synergies Work Entrepreneur of the Year and led Social Cipher to win numerous awards and honors.

When Vanessa was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age 14, she was told that she’d never be able to connect with others. Inspired by her own journey and time as a neuroscience researcher, Vanessa decided that social skills were a cipher worth solving and assembled a neurodiverse team of researchers, game developers, educators, and artists to form Social Cipher.

Photo of Lucy Stevens

Lucy Stevens

Creative Director & Co-Founder

As an artist and gamer, Lucy always understood the impact that games have on social and emotional development. She recognized that neurodivergent youth are underrepresented in games and sought out to design the Ava universe, where neurodivergent youth are widely represented and accepted.

Lucy has been recognized as a Forbes 30U30 Education honoree, and thanks to Lucy’s creative vision, Social Cipher is celebrated for its visually appealing and engaging gameplay.

Our SEL Team

Photo of Kristine Spindler Denton

Kristine Spindler Denton

Education Consultant

Kristine has an extensive background in teaching and developing district-level curricula for special education, specifically for autistic students. Her personal experience with Auditory Processing Disorder, combined with her deep knowledge of SEL and the needs of autistic learners, enables her to create engaging and effective curriculum for Social Cipher.

Photo of Lucas Harrington

Lucas Harrington, Psy.D.

SEL Consultant

Dr. Harrington is a clinical psychologist and published author whose personal experience as an autistic person with ADHD allows him to support autistic youth and their families from a place of deep understanding. His clinical interests include education, disruptive behavior, school avoidance, and emotional regulation. Dr. Harrington leverages his expertise to enhance Social Cipher’s SEL curriculum and ensure our resources are effective and neurodiversity-affirming.

Photo of Melinda Layden

Melinda Layden

Narrative Writer

Melinda has 10+ years of experience teaching at-risk youth and students with learning differences. Melinda leverages her classroom experience, personal experience with ADHD, and background in Television Writing to write engaging and relatable dialogue that teaches students SEL skills in an entertaining and impactful way.

Photo of Jessica Scott

Jessica Scott

UX/UI Designer

Jess is AuDHD (autistic + ADHD) and uses her background in psychology, computer science, and human-centered design and engineering to create accessible and inclusive UX/UI for companies such as Social Cipher and Amazon. Her research was recently featured in the 2024 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.