Technology, Interaction, and Autism: iPods and Beyond

Posted on

Businessweek has posted an article on the fight against Autism going High Tech, meaning that technology is becoming the avenue autistic people are using to overcome their social isolation brought on by the disorder.  Mentioned there are a number of different devices that are becoming more mainstream:  iPods and apps for Autism (229 and counting), robots instead of people for reliable, comfortable communication, and other tools each provide an autistic child with an opportunity to work through their disability and interact with others. 

I've posted several reviews on apps on the iPod/iPad that help autistic children learn, and each my son has enjoyed.  I still maintain that Apple's true potential in their popular multitouch platform has yet to be tapped or even advertised, and that is it's ability to enable those who are disabled.  But this is more than finding a technological solution to a problem, it's about finding how autistic children interact, and catering to that method.

For instance, aside from robots that have preset interaction ideas, dogs can provide a save interaction variable for autistic children.  That's because dogs are perhaps more straightforward in their responses, and remain very honest and predictable in how they will interact with children.  That is, in general at least.  There are some exceptions to that rule, but by and large dogs provide a predictable interaction experience for autistic children. 

But what about vacations?  Many parents with autistic children tend to shy away from vacations in general, and particularly large resorts with lots of people.  I've had several parents post comments about how they would love to have their children go to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, but fear the reaction with so many people in such a close space. 

Remember that Disney has a policy:  Every guest is to have a good experience.  As such they have a special pass for those who are unable to wait in long lines for extended periods of time.  Those parents with an autistic child can get one of these passes for up to 5 people plus the special needs individual (if I remember right, it may just be 5 people).  This pass was a life saver for my family, as my son was able to ride his now favorite ride (other than the Carousel), Finding Nemo, without having to wait the full 40+ minutes to get in. 

Disney also has another interaction activity mentioned by the Businessweek article:  "Turtle Talk with Crush".  Apparently this activity, where children get to talk with Crush the Turtle from Finding Nemo has been very well received by children with lower functioning autism, and they even come away repeating more of the words that Crush has said.  My family didn't get a chance to see this activity (it's in Disneyland's California Adventures park), but you can guarantee that we will be there the next time we go to Disneyland. 

There is a lot happening with Autism in this day and age.  More people are becoming aware of the disorder, more parents are getting timely information on how to manage the disorder, genetic markers and causes are being discovered, potential treatments are being investigated, acceptance is becoming more common, and technology is quickly enabling those with Autism to interact with those who are not more readily.  It's an exciting time for parents of children with this now very wide spread disability.