March 6, 2017
For someone diagnosed with autism, a path forward can certainly be challenging to navigate. Autism comprises a wide spectrum of qualifying symptoms with varying degrees of intensity. One of the most important things we can do is find positive approaches to empowering people with autism and come up with practical solutions to highlight their unique skills and remedy their particular disadvantages.
Luckily, there’s been a lot of attention in recent years geared toward the autism community. Comedy Central has hosted a televised charity event every year since 2006 called The Night Of Too Many Stars to raise awareness, and last year we saw an Oscar-nominated documentary, Life, Animated, that followed the unique experience of one autistic person in order to foster a more insightful understanding of the disorder.
New tech innovations have also made some groundbreaking advances in diagnosing and treating autism. Newcastle University in England is using virtual reality to help people with autism overcome their phobias. Known as the Newcastle Blue Room, the groundbreaking tech allows children with autism to confront their unique fears by putting them in a safe virtual environment to gradually expose them to the elements and overcome their discomfort.
The Blue Room has seen palpable success and reported that eight out of nine children who participate in the four-session program are able to successfully deal with their phobias and, in some cases, transcend them altogether.
Addressing Eye Contact
Researchers have also started to embed cameras in eyeglasses to successfully gauge eye contact with children showing potential signs of autism. This is a huge step forward in the diagnostic process as severe lack of eye contact is one of the biggest telltale signs of autism.
So far, eye contact has been relatively difficult to examine due to unreliable methods like recording from a stationary camera, which hasn’t been able to distinguish between actual eye contact and a general stare. Researchers have also used a computer to simulate a human with whom the child can talk, however, results weren’t as reliable since children interact differently with computers and people in real life. Wearable cameras are allowing researchers to gather more concrete evidence and gain insight to certain behaviors.
Real World Integration
Beyond simply treating and diagnosing autism, guiding individuals to an activity where they can show off their skill such as coding can help with overall development. Coding For Life is an iTunes U course provided by Autism Spectrum Australia that engages students by applying coding techniques to everyday tasks and using coding to develop broader critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Additionally, a group of parents with autistic children started the nonPareil Institute in 2008, which provides training in tech to autistic students. The organization’s goal is to ultimately make students on the autism spectrum eligible for a career in the tech industry.
There are a lot of positive impacts tech is having on autism, be it through the new treatments, research discoveries, or the potential to improve someone’s basic quality of life. Most importantly, these tech innovations are nourishing aspirations of people with special needs.
Things like virtual reality are relatively uncharted territory. As we begin to venture deeper into the unknown, we need to remind ourselves that whatever we find might serve a bigger purpose than just entertainment. It might be playing a pivotal role for someone in need.
Learn more about startups helping people with special needs here on Tech.Co
Photo: Flickr / em-volleyball-1-6
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