April 2013 Archives

April 30, 2013

Voice4U Special Offer: AAC app for Professionals

Article first published as Voice4U Special Offer: AAC app for Professionals on Technorati.

Voice4U application for iOS and Android.  Photo courtesy of http://voice4uaac.com.I've posted before about applications available on iOS in the past that were useful to helping children with autism communicate and learn. Some have focused on learning life skills, such as Look In My Eyes, or others have been on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Most often, they are apps that I have either read about or managed to try myself. Rarely do I get the opportunity or pleasure to have a company make a special offer to all professionals who are looking for an app to recommend.

Today, I got one. Yumi Kubo, co-founder of Spectrum Visions Global, Inc. sent me an email regarding their product, Voice4u. The App, an AAC application, has received general positive reviews from what I can see. Yumi made me aware of a program where they grant licenses for their product to NPO's, therapists, and school teachers for free. You can find more information here, and sign up for a free license.

But why is this such a big deal? Well, mobile devices have made a huge difference in the world of autism. Their impact has spawned events such as the AT&T-Autism Speaks Mobile App Hackathon, headlined this year by reigning Miss Montana and former Miss America contestant Alexis Wineman, which focuses on developing mobile applications to assist those with autism. Parents and autism specialists have gravitated to tablets as tools to help their children communicate, learn, and display their intelligence.

Tablets, particularly capacitive display tablets like iPad, Xoom, or the Galaxy Tab, present a simple gross-motor interface (using a pointed finger to "touch" something) in order to relate that event to something directly. For instance, a child with autism can touch a picture of a cat and have the tablet say "cat" for them. It requires less translation between action and result than, say, a keyboard which requires you to hit a key and expect a result. Add to the fact that these tablets and phones are more mobile than a full blown computer, and you have a great combination.

Applications merely translate this gross motor behavior into the desired result. With AAC applications, you can tap a picture to have the word "said" for you. Some will let you drag your pictures into a "sentence", and then you can play that sentence. Others will convert text to speech, encourage looking someone in the eye, or provide learning events as games to engage the student. These mobile devices may have unlocked the door, but the applications make all the difference.

But the elephant in the room is the cost of the application. Even for a trial run, you have to purchase the app. And AAC or other autism-specific applications are not inexpensive. They range from the most expensive (and comprehensive) app at $189.00 to others that are free, but require several in-app purchases to be made extensive. It's nice to see these apps issued free to those professionals in need of the free trial for evaluation, so they can with confidence offer that same application to parents.

April 19, 2013

April 24th is International Denim Day

I love to wear my jeans when I can.  They provide protection while on the bike, feel comfortable when out and about, and are generally my favorite color (blue).  Little did I know, there was an International day to wear them.  April 24th.  

It's not because they are stylish, or because they are comfortable, or because they are blue.  But rather, apparently, the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing tight jeans at the time of the assault.  The justices stated that the woman must have helped her attacker remove her jeans, therefore inferring consent.  This ruling came down April 24th, 1999. 

Because of this outrageous ruling, wearing jeans on the anniversary of this day has become a symbol of protest against sexual violence, and the destructive attitudes that stigmatize the victims.  The UCSD Women's Center has asked that the staff, faculty and students show their support by wearing denim on this day. 

So for those of you who don't generally wear denim, April 24th is the day to do it.  If you normally wear denim, for that date at least you can wear denim for a cause.  Sexual violence is a cancer that needs to stop, and those who erroneously believe the victims "deserve it" need to be reeducated.  I ask that you all wear your jeans in support of this ideal.  Let's be comfortable for a cause. 

April 15, 2013

Successful "Grown" Kidneys in Laboratory Rats

The BBC is reporting the success of "growing" laboratory kidneys and implanting them in living animals, with the result of creating urine. This is huge news, and shows progress in one very important area: transplant organs.

Organ transplants remain a very complicated procedure, with the need of finding donors, matching them to needy recipients, and doctors having the difficulty having to prioritize need for the very limited supply of donor organs. Being able to "grow" organs from stem cells has been a holy grail for transplant doctors, because it would mean being able to grow a replacement organ from a patient's own stem cells that works properly without worrying about rejection. Because even if there is a great match for donation, there is a limit on how long the organ will remain viable with anti-rejection drugs.

Many of my friends and family know that my wife is a living donor, having donated a kidney to her brother when we were married for 6 months. It was an ordeal for all of us, but her brother is alive and well with a working kidney. But to think that he could have his own kidney, fully functioning, no anti-rejection pills, that's something that I think would be fabulous.

The donation process was an amazing process, bringing the whole family closer together as we looked for ways to help my brother in law and my wife through the ordeal. I wouldn't want to take that process of closeness, bonding, and connection away from anyone. But I can't wait until those who need kidneys, hearts, lungs, livers, etc. will no longer need to wait for years on a waiting list, or search through family members for close matches, and can have the life-saving transplant in a matter of months. This is an exciting time, and it makes me hopeful for the future!

April 8, 2013

Diners, Noise, and Autism: A Good Experience at Denny's in Kearny Mesa

I am hesitant at best to go to a diner with our boys on the spectrum. The noise is severe, they are often very busy, and the service is often very slow. Normally this isn't a problem, because it gives the patrons a chance to talk, gossip, and socialize. For people with autism, however, the noise is painful, the wait unbearable.dennys.png

This past week we had some family visit, and at the end of their visit we went out to breakfast at Denny's on Kearny Villa Road and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. The diner was quiet, as it was early in the morning, with only a few patrons. We had a large group (10), so it took them some time to arrange our seats.

When we sat down, my oldest started to exhibit signs of a meltdown. We made our drink order, and shortly afterward our server came and got our food order. After making our order, I specifically asked that the boy's food be brought out first because they have autism and it would alleviate any problems with the wait. Our server, Andrea, took note and went away.

As the family talked, I took my oldest for a walk as we waited for our food. We walked to the rest room, he washed his hands, and we walked back. Shortly after returning to our seats, the food came for the boys! I was surprised, as this is the first time when I have asked for the boy's food first at a restaurant, and it actually came first. I was very impressed.

But there was a slight problem: the cooks made the breakfast with pancakes instead of toast. Andrea apologized, and said she didn't want to take the plates back, but would bring out the toast when it was done. This was also very impressive, as we were not charged for the pancakes. Andrea did her best to make sure our boys were comfortable.

When we left, I made sure her manager knew just how helpful Andrea was in accommodating our son's needs. She did a stellar job, and I hope she is commended for it.

As I said earlier, we don't often go to diners as they are perfect places for meltdowns. But this Denny's experience was perhaps the best possible experience we could have had, with staff that were understanding and willing to accommodate. I would recommend them to any family who have children with autism in the San Diego area.

April 2, 2013

World Autism Awareness Day

It's World Autism Awareness Day today, April 2nd. That means it's time for the World to focus on what autism is, how it impacts families, and what we need to do as a world community to help those who are unable to help themselves.

According to the latest CDC estimates, 1 in 50 children between the ages of 6 and 17 have autism, with the official number for all children still holding at 1 in 88. Think about that. Put 50 first graders in a room, and at least one will have autism. That's where we are.

So where do we go? A lot of energy is focused on finding out why autism is so common, and from there what action needs to be taken. Some people talk of cures, some people talk of lawsuits, others say it's who they are and don't try to "cure" me. Personally, the causes don't mean a whole lot for those that currently have autism, as they just need to know how to manage themselves in this world.

But in order for that to happen, they need to find a place. Our children need to find schools that will educate them based on their needs. They need healthcare that is supportive, willing to provide for the very expensive costs of therapy necessary to help these remarkable children succeed. They need local, State, and federal governments who are understanding and willing to create this environment to help them succeed. They need ordinary people like you and me to be willing to accept them for who they are, and willing to help when it's needed, and give them space when they need it.

Tonight, many cities around the world will switch their white lighting around their buildings to blue. It will look pretty, and many people will feel they have done their duty. Much like wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, green for Saint Patrick's Day, etc. Some will buy ribbons, stickers, buttons, or magnets to display their support for this one day for autism awareness. Tweets, walls, and other social media posts will be dripping with support and awareness messages. It's great, because the news is getting out there.

But it's not enough to wear blue, use blue lightbulbs, or buy a ribbon. While we take this day to focus on autism, we need to focus on helping those with autism get the education they need in the best environment, get jobs, be productive, and feel comfortable in society. Autism isn't a one day thing, ask any parent with a child on the spectrum. It's an every minute thing, because you are "on" every minute of every day. Autism is on every minute of every day.

So, today, please show your support for those with autism, and continue that support tomorrow, the next day, and so on. Children with autism are very special children, and deserve to be seen as children, not a diagnosis.

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