At the weekend I was lucky enough to spend some very rare time with family from overseas while they were in the UK on holiday. One of these people, a young man has autism. Although I have met people with some form of autism before I didn't really know what to expect, how the interaction would be and how we would get along. The reality is that no two people who have some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will appear the same, Autism manifests itself in different forms. What I found was a bright, articulate, warm, caring, inquisitive, totally innocent person that was engaging and full of personality. Now, of course, there is likely huge amount of credit to offer his parents and family for supporting and raising him in a way that got him to where he is. However I believe people are good from within and was just so happy to see him loving life and all the food he could eat because he was "on holiday" (I did not teach him that!!!!!)
Needless to say and as you probably already worked out, although our time together was brief, he left a real impression on me and I will be seeing more of him in some way shape or form as he gets older and transitions through stages of life. However being the inquisitive soul I am, this got me thinking - What can I / we as a race / community do to help him and fellow ASD friends get everything they need?
Right now when you look around, you’re probably surrounded by people face down in a digital device for entertainment purposes; writing a Facebook status, reading a music review blog, or maybe endlessly scrolling Amazon for products they never knew existed. While majority of people consume digital media primarily for entertainment, this same technology is helping shape a lifestyle of communication and knowledge for the autism community.
The use of digital media has opened doors for children with autism that were not even doors that were built ten years ago. Through the use of iPads, apps, and video content, these children are able to learn and communicate more effectively than ever before.
Repetition is necessary for someone with autism to start to associate the appropriate feelings to situations, and video modeling is a digital tactic used to do just that. When this lesson is taught through a YouTube video, there is no room for human error in breaking the repetition of the lesson. An example of this is Ms. Veronica. Ms. Veronica is a series of videos that explain human emotion and what the expected social emotional reaction is. After months or years of repetition, the child viewer starts to understand and respond with the correct emotion. And the best part? Any time they view that video, the lesson will be the exact same, with no room for different inflection, a different dance move, or different level of energy.
Digital technology has also greatly influenced the lives of non-verbal autistic children as well. Through the use of speech software technology, children are able to click buttons on an iPad to communicate with people around them, rather than living siloed.
Another digital medium that is has influenced the lives of those living with autism is creative software. People with autism pay very close attention to detail and, again, learn through repetition. Programs like Photoshop and Illustrator let them practice these skill sets and also provide a creative outlet for expression. Islands Of Brilliance is a non-profit program that ties children on the autism spectrum to design professionals to help learn this software. Through this, the professionals learn about the capabilities and also struggles of a child with autism, and that student gets to learn a program to express themselves with.
These digital mediums are helping to transform the lives of those living with autism through knowledge, communication, and also by providing a creative outlet.
We should embrace these chances to learn and help others as you never really know what that person who is a little different might be able to bring to your party.
Autism at Work, a program focused on hiring employees with Autism, we have hired more than 30 individuals who have ASD and we anticipate hiring hundreds more across the globe over the coming years. Autism manifests itself in many different forms; no two autistic individuals face the same exact challenges. To quote Melanie, a Columbus-based Chase employee whose daughter is autistic: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” These challenges may explain why unemployment for this community is so high.