Technology abounds the world. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have a cell phone on their person in this day and age. The development and progression of such devices moves at lightning speeds, racing to the next innovative accomplishment skyrocketing it to new heights, once only imagined in classic sci-fi movies. Software and hardware advances have helped improve lives touched by such engineering breakthroughs. Has the realm of autism been just as positively affected? I sat down with David Ide, CEO of Cornerstone Autism Center and board member of the recently founded Cornerstone Autism Foundation, to get his opinion on this question. Sitting on the other side of his desk, I see a man leaned back and relaxed in his business seat. Technology abides even here. To his left comfortably sat a MacBook Air on his desk and an iPhone rested in the palm of his right hand. HECK, I used my iPhone’s built-in “Voice Memos” app to record the conversation and had a laptop to take additional notes!
Jarrad: I see you sport a Macbook Air and an iPhone and you’re a huge fan of iPads helping children with autism. The tech industry is growing and improving faster than any analyst ever, truly, imagined possible. How is the swelling development in autism numbers like that of the tech industry’s developing evolution?
David: You know it’s interesting when you talk about the parallels between the tech industry and autism. I think there is a parallel in that of explosive growth. The evolution of technology, cheaper, faster, and more powerful, and then the evolution of autism which is greater numbers, more people impacted, and more people affected. But if you want to look at a positive paradigm, it’s that autism awareness is exponentially growing. If you look even 12-13 years ago to when Austin [David’s son] was diagnosed, the understanding of autism was vastly less than it is now. Another interesting similarity is using technology to combat autism whether its tablet PCs, interactive software programs, and O.T. (Occupational Therapy) and speech based interventions that utilize technology. The field of autism has benefited already greatly from technology and yet my sense is we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.
J: Right now we have interactive technology like the Wii, Xbox Kinect, Sony Motion, and Apple iPad that influence and help parents, teachers, and therapists with children who have autism. Now imagine the next step in the future for those fine folks to help those kiddos with similar technology. What would that future look like to you?
David: It’s scary how fast the half-life of our increased knowledge is now. Meaning, it used to be 20-30 years before significant changes in general with societies. Now it’s like 6 months, but looking into the future I really think one of the ways technology is going to play a role is in data collection. How can we, utilizing the principles of ABA and the insights into a child’s programs, track the programs easily through technology? How do we then take that increased capability and speed up ABA? I mean, allow us to truly maximize the way in which we interface with the kids oppose to old times when you had a set of cards doing a matching program. Is there a way through technology, through V.R. (Virtual Reality)? How are we going to be able to touch and immerse other senses and how are we going to be able to tap into that relatively simple process and impact a child in a much more significant way? I think we have a unique opportunity in autism because there is a proclivity with our kids already built in technology for because it is predictable , it acts the same. It’s something that I believe threatens our kiddos less than the typical traditional world which is including, crazy people, loud noises, and unfamiliar places. If you can take an individual with autism and take his or her perspective down to something that is predictable and reliable, yet allows them to explore in new ways I think it could be really cool. In a physiological way, are there ways that we can use technology to interface with the brain and activate areas of the brain that are deficient in general with autism?
J: Does video game technology like the Wii, the Xbox Kinect, Sony Motion, currently do that to some extent?
David: Oh absolutely! I mean, in the 3 story [building] in Greenwood there’s an entire area in the corner. A flat screen TV with a Wii hooked up to it. Right now its immediate benefits are things like hand-eye coordination, turn taking, social interface, and they have to be they have to be what’s appropriate when playing a video game. The video games are extremely motivating to them so they open themselves up to the possibility of saying, “Hey, I desire this technology. I want to interact with this and so I am willing to work on waiting. I’m willing to work on taking turns.” They’re willing to work through gross or fine motor skills that are challenging to me because that reward at the end of the tunnel is extremely satisfying to them.
J: The Kinect has another advantage above motor skills. It has speech and vocal recognition and interaction. Would that help kids or would that just frustrate the children?
David: It would do a little of both depending on the kiddo. I think the potential for the former is worth going through the later. Anytime you start to get in to vocal speech for many of our kiddos it makes things really, really difficult. It’s a challenge for them not only physiologically, to form sound but also from a psychological argument that they don’t really care. “I don’t care if I don’t reply to your idea” or, “I have no desire to get your input on anything. I’m cool in my world.” So I think that such tools potentially have ways to draw them in to something that they wouldn’t have otherwise been open to. It has removed an obstacle for learning. That’s one of the main goals of ABA, to continue to remove hurdles from learning and maximize the amount of learning opportunity.
J: You mentioned Virtual Reality. It is something that has been worked on for about 25 years. How do you think the future of such tech might be beneficial to ABA and autism again?
David: I think V.R. could be really impactful in the fact that you could create a predictable environment. There’s less variables to set them off, be painful, or distracting for them. You can create an environment where the focus can be where you really want it to be, not on the fact that it’s hot, or loud, there’s something moving over here, or there are five kids that distract them. You can create an environment that’s all to themselves. Individuals with autism like controlled predictable environments. I have little knowledge in VR, but I do know that if you can remove barriers to learning, or experience, the better off you’re going to be.
July 30, 2012, cornerstoneac