Technology is continuously advancing and we’ve certainly seen how it’s being leveraged to help those touched by autism. Dr. Ned Sahin, founder of Brain Power, is hoping it can be used to help children with engagement and socialization.
Brain Power is a startup that is developing apps that display images of popular cartoon characters on the screen of Google Glass, so that when a child looks at someone talking, that character pops up to draw the child’s attention to the speaker’s face. And when the child turns their heads to make eye contact, the cartoon goes away and the face is revealed. Just like a game, the child earns points for eye contact.
Dr. Sahin explains in this article that he feels using Google Glass has unique advantages over other devices, saying “While an iPad encourages a child to look down and away from the real world, with Glass the child is naturally encouraged to look up into the world…and our device rewards him with looking people in the eye and engaging directly.”
Brain Power is testing its product in a clinical trial at MA’s General Hospital beginning in April, so more to come on what seems to be a very interesting concept!
It seems like almost every day there is a terribly upsetting story about a child with autism who has gone missing as a result of wandering off. It’s a fear that many parents share – and rightfully so. In fact, as discussed here, a 2012 study showed that nearly half of the parents surveyed said their child with autism had tried to wander off or run away at least once after the age of 4, and most said their child was gone ‘long enough to cause worry.’
With this concern, the idea of a tracking device is not something new – often seen as something children could wear on their wrists. But former CNN correspondent Lauren Theirry, whose teen son, Liam, has autism, developed a new idea. She founded Independence Day (ID) Clothing, which offers shirts and pants that hold a small tracking device – which weighs less than an ounce. And unlike the other wearable IDs out there – such as ankle or wrist devices – ID Clothing’s GPS units slip inside soft pockets sewn into each garment, without any uncomfortable wires or weight.
This is particularly helpful for those with sensory issues — the device being so small and hidden away that it wouldn’t even be felt. Also something we really like and shows the thought put into the clothes’ creation – the shirts and pants are the same forward and backward, making it easier for kids to dress themselves. (Plus no zippers, no tags and no buttons!!)
Technology has become a great tool that has helped many touched by autism to communicate, work on social skills and it also can be an overall learning aide. And now Samsung has released a new app called Look At Me that claims it can help children learn how to better maintain eye contact.
The app, which is available on Google Play, was developed by doctors and professors at Seoul National University Bundag Hospital and Yonsei University Department of Psychology. As discussed in this article, Look At Me uses photos, facial recognition technology and games to help children identify emotions and communicate with other people. The team that created the app had conducted a clinical trial and said that 60% of the 20 children that participated showed improvement in making eye contact.
You hear a lot about various apps you can get on your iPad, iPhone, etc, that can help serve as a voice for those with autism, particularly for those that are nonverbal. This is a similar idea, but utilizes the benefit of a sensory (tactile) experience – and can be an option for people who have sight difficulties.
Industrial designer Jeffrey Brown created the device after realizing that touch, sound and smell could communicate an idea – and from that, he created a board that includes six cubes covered in various textures. Audio is recorded or downloaded for each cube – such as “I need to go to the bathroom” / “I am hungry” / “I want to play now”—and the user just needs to squeeze a cube for the audio to play.
What an interesting and good idea if this is able to provide a voice to some that currently don’t have that ability right now, which could ultimately help alleviate some of the frustration that comes with communication challenges – and provide some independence and empowerment to the user. Read more here.
Yet another truly amazing and inspirational story…this video from KABC in California features Dillan Barmache, a teen who is non-verbal, but with the aide of his iPad was able to address his fellow middle school classmates during graduation.
Dillan spells out words letter by letter, and the iPad’s speech synthesizer vocalizes the words for him, allowing him, for the first time, to express himself. And Dillan used his speech synthesizer to present his graduation speech, which touched on the challenges he has had as well as the opportunities they will face in high school. Here’s an excerpt (KABC published Dillan’s speech):
When I examine each day, it’s just incredible how a student, an autistic one, could ever feel a part of a class of future academics. Education is a better institution when all students have opportunity, plus a chance to take an idea and see the lessons within. With your mind, no one can place limits on where an idea can take you. Living without a voice creates almost no way to be heard, but there are people who refuse to think in a box. Open your mind in high school. You will learn to think about different ideas, and examine new findings. Always look inside other peoples experience in order to gain another perspective outside of books. Only then are we able to start opening our eyes to the amazing things around us.
And, rightfully so, his speech was met with a standing ovation! Congratulations to Dillan and his classmates!
As we’ve discussed here before, there is a growing amount of support and programs for the autism community, mainly for those that are school-aged, which is a wonderful thing. Expanding awareness is having a great impact. However, what we’re seeing is that as our school-aged kids grow up and become adults, there is almost a complete drop-off of funding/programs/schooling/etc. available to them.
This is now starting to change, again, thanks to awareness. Many of those touched by autism have a lot to offer, particularly in terms of a job. The problem sometimes, though, is that first step of securing a job, due to difficulties with social and/or communication skills. Hoping to help secure more jobs for people with autism by tapping into strengths, there seems to be an emerging trend of the tech industry seeking out those with autism.
One recent example is SAP, a global tech company, who announced a plan to seek out people with autism and hire them as software testers, programmers and data quality assurance specialists. As noted in this article, they partnered with Specialisterne, a global job placement agency for those with autism, and said they may hire hundreds worldwide.
Some other interesting job opportunities/agencies worth noting:
ASTEP (Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership) – this is an agency that creates and supports programs that promote long-term employment for people with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism.
Aspiritech – a Chicago-based software testing service that only hires people with autism.
nonPareil Institute – a Texas-based program that is dedicated to providing technical training, employment and housing to those with autism.
We’ll keep sharing additional career programs/ opportunities here because this is an important and much-needed focus for the autism community.
Your iPhone or iPad may just be the most coveted item in your household—according to your children, at least. Some of the apps out there can be both fun and educational—as well as shown to help those with autism. With so many apps out there, we’ve sifted through to find the ones that have been recognized:
Go Go Gamesis designed to help children with ASD learn to quickly notice multiple features of objects in the world around them.
Hidden Curriculum for Kidsuses real-life situations to spur conversations about the “unwritten social rules” that we encounter every day that may cause confusion and anxiety.
Speech with Milo: Interactive Storybookwas created as a speech therapy tool for children that features an interactive storybook and the ability to record your own story.
While The Stir identified five other apps in its ‘best apps for autistic children’ piece. One of them is Dr. Panda-Teach Me!, which helps children with skills like counting, memory, and colors. Another one is Talking Larry, which helps develop language skills and features a talking bird friend.
Also, while we’re on the subject of apps, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, Kindergarten.com has made all of their apps free—which includes a collection of apps focused on speech and language, self-care skills and receptive and expressive identification.