The combined third/fourth grade classroom at Seattle’s Academy for Precision Learning (APL) is humming with activity. An inclusion-based private school created in 2007 to meet the needs of autistic children in grades K-12, APL boasts classrooms that accommodate a spectrum of behaviors and learning styles. Most children are seated at desks; one small group of students is working together around a table, while another child with noise-canceling headphones is sitting at the back of the room with an aide beside her. The teacher is giving a lecture about the Battle of the Alamo; children are wiggling and talking quietly to themselves. One child occasionally shouts out random words, but only a handful of the classroom’s mix of autistic and neurotypical students seem to notice.
IN AMERICA in 1970 one child in 14,000 was reckoned to be autistic. The current estimate is one in 68—or one in 42 among boys. Similarly high numbers can be found in other rich countries: a study in South Korea found that one in 38 children was affected. Autism is a brain condition associated with poor social skills. It has a wide spectrum of symptoms, from obsessive behaviour to hypersensitivity to sound, light or other sensory stimulation, the severity of which ranges from mild to life-blighting. The range of consequences is also wide. At one end, the autism of a computer scientist may be barely noticeable; at the other, a quarter of autistic children do not speak.
Apple has released a new pair of videos on its YouTube channel highlighting the effect that technology has on people with disabilities. The video, called “Dillan’s Voice,” features a teenager named Dillan Barmache, a 16-year-old kid who is autistic, and shows how he uses Apple products to express his thoughts.
A mother of two autistic boys has created empowering dolls to encourage acceptance of children with disabilities.
Maria Kentley, from Melbourne, Australia, started the Hope Toys line last year in response to the perfect figures manufactured by the major toy companies.
Her dolls represent a number of disabilities – some are amputees with prosthetic legs, while others have wheelchairs or walking aids.
Problem: many autistic kids are super sensitive to the sight, sound, and feel of their environment. So when New York-Presbyterian decided to build an early intervention center for autistic children, they needed it designed with their needs in mind.
One in 68 American children have been diagnosed with autism, according to the Center for Disease Control. Early intervention is the most effective treatment, requiring dedicated centers, but autistic children’s hypersensitivity to their surroundings makes designing such facilities difficult.
The University of Bristol, the Chicago University Press, has published a landmark book on designing homes for people on the Autism Spectrum, At Home with Autism. The authors, Kim Steele and Sherry Ahrentzen, have been exploring this issue with rare sensitivity and thoroughness for some years. This 320 page book is a tour-de-force with a thoroughgoing analysis of research and precedent, practical design guidelines, encyclopedic references, and an informed rationale for the importance of flexibility and variety. Kim Steele is a research and design consultant focused on improving quality of life through design. Sherry Ahrentzen is the Shimberg Professor of Housing Studies at the University of Florida.
A surprising new historical analysis suggests that a pioneering doctor was examining people with autism before the Civil War.
She’s also a girl.
Google Glass’ software learns to identify people’s faces and their emotional expressions — what project founder Catalin Voss calls “action units” — and then classifies them with specific words. This in turn helps the user recognize other people’s emotions. Autism, which affects one in 68 children, is characterized by the inability to recognize emotions in facial expressions, among other symptoms. This in turn makes social interactions and developing friendships difficult to create and sustain.
Autism is usually thought to be a lifelong condition, but a small number of children lose the core symptoms and shed the diagnosis. Some researchers are beginning to explore how common this may be, and why some children outgrow autism.