Hacking Autism: What It Means To Me

Discovery News published “Treating Autism:  There’s An App For That” on Monday, August 15.   It talks about the power and potential of touch technology to help people with autism.   It also mentions Hope Technology School, which is familiar to anyone who visits this blog or follows me on Twitter or Google+.

The most exciting thing to me was the new information about the HP Hacking Autism initiative.

This October, HP is organizing a hackathon called “Hacking Autism” to develop new applications. Unlike a traditional hackathon that limits programming to a set time period, the idea is that this will be more of a catalyst.

“We’re crowdsourcing ideas directly from the families, researchers, scientists,” said James Taylor, the director of HP’s Innovation Program Office. A board of directors will evaluate submissions and pick at least five finalists. HP technologists will be volunteering time to create the actual programs, which will then be made available online.

This is the first time I have heard anything about the process, and it sounds promising.  Take a look at the idea gallery, and you will see the great suggestions they have already received.  There will be some significant challenges selecting the right applications, and as I have already written in my 5 suggestions, they must provide at least one great app for non-verbal kids.

Perhaps most interesting is the idea of Hacking Autism becoming a catalyst.  A great idea, but a daunting task.  Nevertheless, I believe it could work, if HP will provide leadership.  They should create an enduring community, so the inspiration extends beyond this moment.   For instance, long after HP returns to their core business, my team of app creators would love to remain connected to a vibrant Hacking Autism community.

Let me explain briefly how my friends and I have already allowed Hacking Autism to become a catalyst for our efforts.  For a number of years, I have puzzled over how to help my son communicate given his verbal limitations.  This is what originally led me to the HP TouchSmart, and provided him with some tremendous breakthroughs.

Throughout our time meeting with HP Engineers, and talking to his therapist and teachers, it seemed like a more portable device would extend his progress to many additional areas.   I kept talking with HP about this, and was assured they saw the need for something portable.  Unfortunately there was no movement and then Apple came out with the IPad (since then new HP Leadership produced the TouchPad).   This worked out well for us when one of our family friends gave us the IPad as a gift.

Since this time our son has used the IPad extensively, but none of the communication software has inspired all day use.  This led me to work with friends on developing a piece of software with the portability, simplicity, and sensory attractiveness to inspire all day use.  We did this in the spirit of Hacking Autism.   We figured why wait for someone to create, what we could create ourselves.

We decided to use the Android platform, and will be releasing our software very soon.  Our hope is users will provide feedback, which will allow us to improve our software regularly until it completely fulfills our all day use vision.

So, the question comes, “What does Hacking Autism mean to me?”   It means getting parents, therapists, teachers, and software engineers to pool their knowledge and talents to create software that can change lives.   This is what we are doing at Digital Scribbler, and I hope the Hacking Autism effort inspires others to do the same.

About Russ Ewell

Since 1994 I have been devoted to the research and application of innovative technology solutions to education. My passion for these pursuits has been driven by my experience as a parent of children with special needs. During the economic technological growth explosion of the 1990's I was lived and worked in Silicon Valley, and was fortunate enough to find a group of people with similar interests and passions. As a result I was able to launch a non-profit called Hope Technology Group whose mission became advancing the use of technology in education. We eventually launched Hope Technology School, which has used technology to build a fascinating and effective educational program that practices full inclusion. Around the same time, I was fortunate enough to develop and build an awarding winning program called E-Soccer with the help of great friends and excellent coaches. These endeavors have left me with a continuing hunger to learn more about the possibilites of education, technology, and inclusion.

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