The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘technology

iLove the iPad (and always will)

leave a comment »

Courtesy Tim McCarthy, Asbury Park Press

Alesha Williams Boyd of the Asbury Park Press is the latest reporter to uncover the autism community’s love affair with Apple’s iPad computers. Several New Jersey school districts are purchasing iPads for special needs students for the upcoming 2011-12 school year, with a private school requiring families of students to purchase the mobile computers.

The mobility, aesthetics and the ability to install apps to personalize each system are a few reasons why iPads are such a hit for the mentally disabled community. The director of special services at New Jersey’s Marlboro Public School district credits Apple’s product for drawing autistic kids out from themselves. The iPad’s ability to provide a means of communication via screen images for autistic children is well-documented, but thanks to the app market, school districts are also using iPads to encourage autistic people to make eye contact. Even if such applications have a price tag (according to the article, some cost as much as $200), many still consider the iPad a marvel with its $500 list price compared to bulkier, bigger, more complicated devices that can reach four figures.

What about students with other disabilities? Boyd covers that segment in the first few paragraphs, reporting applications allowing students to organize their activities, thoughts and assignments (a boon for autistic children who adhere to routine), and apps that can vocalize text or translate the spoken word into text. Not enough? Settings on some apps can be adjusted to the type of touch students produce, and can also be rigged to challenge students to exercise their motor skills with different forms of touch.

I doubt this will be the last time iPad and autism blend in the same article, but future media coverage could become stagnant if future versions of the iPad aren’t considered revolutionary for the disabled population. Coupled with similar abilities from the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple’s sister products, stories on the benefits of these devices will find difficulty creating new flavors for an audience that follows autism news via the Internet, where geographical boundaries are neutralized. However, the primary reason for future media coverage that could repeat itself is all about the audience. Similar stories to find a place on this blog originated from Houston and the Twin Cities area, so to assume New Jersey residents would know of those stories would be unwise. While this means using a search engine for stories on autism may produce carbon-copies published in different outlets, local organizations aren’t worried about similar coverage outside their market.

However, Boyd does show her readers the iPad’s potential outside of the autism community, where most media coverage in this topic is focused. Truthfully, the advantages of the iPad aren’t any major revelation these days, but Boyd does answer the call for communities who may feel overshadowed by autism coverage. Examining the benefits is useful beyond informing the audience for Apple’s sake. Since Apple releases new editions of their products on an annual basis, viewing its impact across multiple facets may assist them with improvements for future editions through app technology or hardware components.

I had to learn to communicate through more traditional computers since touch-based technology was far from wide use growing up. I can’t say I’m more or less fluent with computers than autistic kids who use iPads are, but I can predict school districts will eventually saturate their special-needs students with iPads when budgets and resources allow for the opportunity, and you can bet I’ll follow the news coverage generated from the implementation.

Advertisements

Written by TheSportsBrain

August 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Ari Ne’eman, “wired” and unfiltered

leave a comment »

Courtesy Wired.com

Two things became clear to me as I read a Q&A by Steve Silberman, a contributing editor for Wired magazine, with Ari Ne’eman, now the first openly autistic White House appointee in the country’s history. First, my blog is drawing more eyeballs than I thought. A friend of mine, who runs the blog site swirlspice.com, linked me to a MinnPost story via Twitter. MinnPost, in turn, linked the original story on the Wired website. I’m aware people do visit my site, since I can track how many visits are made in a window of time, but people I’m connected with are now just starting to send me links to news stories involving autism.

Second, Ne’eman and I appear to notice the same patterns in the treatment of autism in society, even though we’ve never met and likely lack parallels in our examinations of the disability. That doesn’t qualify one of us over the other, our paths merely lie in different directions.

The last time I talked about Ne’eman, he was still awaiting a Senate holdout blocking his confirmation. The hold, which can be placed anonymously, was later dropped, but not before controversy swelled within the autism community as divisions still exist on adapting versus curing autism spectrum disorder. Specifically, Ne’eman’s drawn flak because of his functionality, with critics suggesting he’d overlook the plights of more severe autistic people. Ne’man’s philosophy also ignited flames, with his belief that more resources should be devoted to helping autistic people adapt instead of finding a cause or cure to prevent the condition in future generations.

I won’t discuss much about the Q&A itself, since the only true intervention from the reporter is what questions were included in the story and how many quotes were included. However, Q&A sessions are no less credible than crafted stories in magazines and newspapers. A Q&A gives the audience an unfiltered discussion, where the reporter and viewer become listeners.

Wondering about what patterns him and I noticed? Ne’eman was asked about autism’s cultural shift from invisibility to media darling in the 21st century, and his response was that a special skill or astonishing success story was needed to gain representation in media (he discusses the other category of autism stories in other questions, where the picture is far more grim). His recommendation? Learning about autism doesn’t have to come from himself, Temple Grandin, or John Elder Robison (author of Look Me in the Eye), since so many exist in educational and workplace settings.

While I cannot measure individual experiences with autism outside of my own, reading the Q&A does highlight autism’s complexity and summarizes what may be a future focal point for journalists covering autism.

An “apple” a day keeps autism away

with 3 comments

If only autism were that simple to solve. Probing the mind of Apple owner Steve Jobs may be next to impossible for us non-celebrities, but he certainly found a way to attract a group whose minds are also difficult to comprehend. Several news outlets are carrying a story originally from Houston about the iPad assisting autistic children in communication (the link takes you to CBS4’s version). Specifically, parents who purchase an iPad can store pictures or other visual cues while their child taps or scrolls to point out his/her needs. While not documented for this story, I’m certain the benefits go beyond autistic people who don’t communicate orally. Whatever the benefits, autism experts believe the iPad is the next step in filling gaps autistic people have that other don’t.

This isn’t the first time Apple and autism have tangoed in the news together, as an autism center in the Twin Cities implemented iPods last year. Other stories have focused on the iPhone, which some joke is an iPad nano that makes phone calls. Evidence is mounting to support Apple’s surprising benefits for autistic people, regardless of what device is used.

I did scope the other versions of this story online, as some news stations will employ the technique of video news releases (VNR’s).  A VNR is essentially an advertisement or pitch created by a company that looks like a news story and is presented as such during a newscast, but the subjective nature can be detected easily by watchful eyes. A case could be made that I’m discussing a VNR, since the same story has appeared in three websites and highlights the iPad, Apple’s latest foray in the netbook PC market (yes, Apples are technically PCs). However, the iPad has no rival at this point, and previous articles have focused on the relationship between Apple and autistic people. On top of that, no computer company is specifically targeting the autistic demographic simply because there’s little financial stability in that group, rendering any marketing ploy ineffective. The more likely scenario is  was one station ran the story, other news outlets saw it, and decided to use the story themselves. Borrowing stories, especially from a major network’s local affiliates, is also common in television news.

There’s a common thread among all the Apple devices I mentioned that I believe is the reason their products are gold mines for families affected by autism: they’re all touch-based. Apple released the iPod Touch around the same time as the iPhone, and the iPad is nearly an identical alternate form of its predecessors. The touch-base technology allows anyone to navigate apps, software, images, just about anything, with a lower learning curve compared to standard computers. While assuming that only Apple products can help autistic people would be foolish (I’ve used Windows PCs for all my blog entries on this site), its storage and navigation techniques are intuitive, especially for non-verbals. They still may not speak, but the ability to communicate through alternate forms is increasingly easier.

Apple is known for updating its products annually and introducing new devices quickly, with a captive audience of techies and journalists who will scoop up almost any Apple lead. However, when the next product is released, there’s a good chance more news stories will be published about its unseen advantages for the autism community. One of my technology friends noted its power in uniting communities, and Apple is definitely showing strides for at least one of them.

Written by TheSportsBrain

September 11, 2010 at 9:01 am

Computer program could detect signals of autism

with one comment

Before Saiqa Akhter dominated autism headlines this week, science produced news that could assist developing an objective form to detect autism, marking the second time this year I’ve come across an article that discovers new possibilities.

The first brought forth the theory of using urine tests to diagnose autism. This time, scientists say they’ve designed a computer program that can distinguish speech patterns between autistic and normal children, correctly identifying more than 85% of its subjects. Scientists working on the study discovered that autistic children mangled their syllables for much longer than non-autistic children, making a diagnosis easy for the computer program. However, those involved in the study recommend caution: the lead researcher doesn’t believe the program should be the sole measurement in determining who is autistic.

The article may be another sign of an incoming phase in autism coverage. A CNN article a few years back highlighted the primary problem of no objective method of diagnosing autism. A couple years back, ABC News reported a study that found certain genes in an autistic person’s DNA lie dormant. With two discoveries this year, it’s clear there’s a focus at finding something that will make autism diagnoses foolproof (there’s some skepticism at the rapid increase in autism diagnosis rates). While the Internet posts its share of contemporary issues, the medium is also proving its use at publishing articles paving new paths for the autism community, and it goes well beyond Google searches. Home pages of various e-mail and Internet service providers have a page that features major news stories at the moment, much like the front page of local and national newspapers did before the delivery of news rapidly increased speed. Because these sites update their top stories every few hours, topics ignored by other outlets have a place to carry their information.

It would be a safe bet to suggest more objective methods of looking for autism in children will appear, although how coverage will branch after that is unknown. Reporters may choose to focus on how soon objective tests will be put in place, others may weigh pros and cons against the status quo, and there may be a chance of hearing stories about psychologists’ appointments dropping because their services will no longer be required to provide an autism diagnosis. Of course, they will still be needed to help manage autistic people’s behaviors. In any case, expect computers to be at the forefront in finding an indisputable form of detection.

Written by TheSportsBrain

July 23, 2010 at 11:39 pm

iPod + iLessons

with 2 comments

Courtesy David Joles, Star Tribune

Courtesy David Joles, Star Tribune

OK, so Apple hasn’t developed an educational technology with that name, but that didn’t stop Fraser Child & Family Center in Minneapolis from experimenting with iPods.

Located near the U of M campus, the staff didn’t go on a music binge. They purchased iPods for people who are part of the Asperger’s treatment program. Asperger’s Syndrome is on the autism spectrum, which means these kids often have the same difficulties as people who are more severely affected. The difference between classic autism and Asperger’s is intellectual abilities. Classic autistics often lag behind their neurotypical peers in terms of speech and communication development. Asperger’s kids equal and sometimes surpass their peers, but retain difficulties in social awareness, making integration sometimes more challenging.

Fraser created video lessons to help rectify that problem. Participants can download them into their iPods and watch them as much as they want at any time. The idea surfaced when the Fraser staff noticed Asperger’s students already used iPods as a calming device from other distractions.

One advantage highlighted in the article is the program’s inconspicuous nature. The rest of us likely won’t guess that a teen or anyone else on the spectrum will pull out their iPod to watch a video on the intricacies of interaction.

Ironically, I’ve never owned an iPod because its use as a calming force almost works too well. iPods are a prime target for thieves because listeners won’t hear anything suspicious, especially if an owner wears its distinctive ear buds. But that doesn’t mean this idea should be abandoned. Fraser’s iPod project is just one example of how new media can influence society as a whole in ways we may not consider on a daily basis.

Also ironic is that I did a story on Fraser, although it was more a profile piece, and the people I talked to wouldn’t let me near anyone who was enrolled in their services. Perhaps my approach or my medium (this was for my TV news reporting class at the U of M) affected their thoughts.  There is HEPA, designed to protect the privacy of people’s medical records. In other words, there’s a rulebook. However, like anything else that involves media, there’s the giant grey area of how those rules are interpreted. Some are strict, some are loose, and sometimes two people will carry vastly different definitions after reading the same book. I doubt I would have come across this specific story, but when I chose to pursue a story on Fraser last fall, my goal was to produce something similar to what Maura Lerner did for the Star Tribune. Lerner’s article shows what can happen when you give people an opportunity to do a story their way.

At least Fraser is willing to open up.

Written by TheSportsBrain

July 26, 2009 at 6:56 pm