App Created For and By Teens with Autism Aids Daily Activities

Dubbed LOLA, which stands for “Laugh Out Loud Aide,” the app aims to remind children on the autism spectrum to complete certain tasks that they may forget about, which could be due to a sensory overload that they experience.

Oftentimes, if you need a job done right, you do it yourself. A group of autistic teenagers recently created an exciting application, or app, destined to help kids like themselves fulfill their everyday tasks.

Dubbed LOLA, which stands for “Laugh Out Loud Aide,” the app aims to remind children on the autism spectrum to complete certain tasks that they may forget about, which could be due to a sensory overload that they experience. Moreover, functioning with a push-notification system, the app aims to create amusing reminders.

The teenagers who developed the app belong to Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU), a not-for-profit organization based in Brooklyn, where both Shema Kolainu and iCare4Autism are also located.

TKU’s founder, Beth Rosenberg, explained that LOLA was a wonderful way for the children “to be self advocates and to create something for themselves.”

“We want to be a part of the conversation. These students have an amazing ability to learn and create and have so much potential to offer society,” Rosenberg added.

LOLA won “Best Emotional/Social Solution” and the People’s Choice vote at New York University’s Connect Ability Challenge, aimed at inspiring participants to create technology that is helpful for people with disabilities.

The idea behind LOLA was imagined by Seth Truman, a member of TKU with Asperger’s, and his father, Greg, who used to write for “The Wiggles” kids television show. Seth finds it annoying when he is constantly reminded by his family or teachers to carry out a task that slipped his mind. LOLA aims to give reminders in a humorous way, instead.

LOLA enables tasks to be encoded and set to a particular time. For example, Seth may receive a push notification from LOLA every morning at 8 a.m., reminding him to brush his teeth. Along with the written reminder is a video animation, called a .gif, which displays the task at hand.

TKU’s application does not only attempt to render reminders more fun but also aims to reduce the number of reminders needed each day. Through operant conditioning, LOLA can train the user’s brain to transform soft skills into daily habits.

When a task is accepted, LOLA provides positive reinforcement in the form of a gold star and a congratulatory message. Declining to complete a task means receiving a grumpy face on the screen plus a phone lock-down of 10 seconds.

Until the app is launched on iTunes in September, there is more work is to be done. Tasks and .gifs will become more numerous, for example. A team setting that enables users to connect with their support groups will also become available. Reward charts will help motivate users to perform.

The app will most likely cost ¢99 in the iTunes store.

For more information about LOLA, view this video: http://connectability.devpost.com/submissions/38440-lola

By Maude Plucker
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ICare4Autism receives Gracious Goodbye from Armenian Partners

Upon completion of a four week intensive training in Applied Behavior Analysis, ICare4Autism bids farewell to our Armenian guests, Narine Vardanyan, Director and Marine Yengoyan, Master Teacher of The International Child Development Center of Armenia (ICDC).

In 2014, Ms. Vardanyan attended The ICare4Autism International Autism Conference in New York City. For Ms. Vardanyan, this conference was transformative. In addition to professional training, the conference provided her the opportunity to develop relationships and establish new supports systems with leading industry professionals. Delving into this new network, Ms. Vardanyan approached Dr. Weinstein and inquired about Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices School and Center for Children with Autism.

Armenian GoodBye Group Picture

Our Armenian guests pose with ICare4Autism Administration for a final goodbye. ICare4Autism Advisory Board Member Dr. Beth Diviney, Program Director Suri Gruen, Director of ICDC Narine Vardanyan, ICare4Autism CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein, ICDC Master Teacher Marine Yengoyan, Educational Director for Shema Kolainu Gili Rechany

The model school concept interested Ms. Vardanyan and led to her visiting Shema Kolainu where she met the entire staff. A year later, in mid July, we welcomed Ms. Vardanyan and Ms. Yengoyan for a full month of extensive training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

The appreciative colleagues recall their month with Shema Kolainu. They express gratitude in learning these new methods, recognizing how impactful this training and knowledge will be for them upon their return to The International Child Development Center.

“Thank you so very much, your professionalism, your teachers, the way your teachers run their classes, the communication, all excellent! You really have an amazing model school here. Thank you very much for this training opportunity.” Ms. Vardanyan expresses of her time here at Shema Kolainu.

The International Child Development Center of Armenia serves 110 children, teens, and adults between ages of 1 and 20. The center is important because it serves as an oasis of sorts for children and young adults on the spectrum, in an area where state of the art treatment is limited. Employing these new assessment tools will be ground breaking in their Armenian community.

As the number of children with autism continues to increase in Armenia, Ms. Vardanyan and Ms. Yengoyan realize the importance of this training. The teachers understand the value in being hands on while learning new techniques. The Shema Kolainu teachers were welcoming and willing to answer any of the questions that arose throughout the month.

“This environment is so great, being able to see everything with your own eyes, it becomes so much easier to understand the concepts.” Ms. Yengoyan shares.

Narine and Marine share their goodbyes in a Shema Kolainu classroom.

Narine and Marine share their goodbyes in a Shema Kolainu classroom.

Ms. Vardanyan and Ms. Yengoyan are eager to return home and look forward to continuing this promising collaboration with ICare4Autism. Our guests kindly thank the teachers and staff and extend a warm thank you to Educational Director Gili Rechany, IEP Coordinator Chani Katz, and Shema Kolainu President Dr. Joshua Weinstein for the support they have provided though the ICare4Autism partnership.

 

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Statement from iCare4 Autism / Shema Kolainu about Brandon Darbeau

Brandon Darbeau, 20, who has autism went missing in August of 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

The Shema Kolainu family is saddened to hear the news about Brandon Darbeau, 20, going missing and encourage all of our Brooklyn neighbors to share his photo and to be on the lookout for him.

As a school and center that works with autistic children, we empathize with Brandon’s unique situation and pray that he is found safe and unharmed. Many autistic children who wander or go missing are nonverbal and may need special assistance from the community and from first responders.

“I am totally concerned about Brandon and ask that my fellow New Yorkers please be on the lookout for him,” said iCare4Autism / Shema Kolainu President Dr. Joshua Weinstein.  The Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers information on why those with autism may wander and has tips for parents, guardians and community members (in English and in Spanish) available online.

We would also like to remind those who know anyone on the autism spectrum that there are resources available to help keep track their friends and loved ones. For more information, please call Shema Kolainu’s Director of Communications & Development Mary Leslie at (718) 686-9600, ext. 1108.  Anyone with information or who spots Brandon Darbeau should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or submit a tip online at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.

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Cardiff Psychologists Develop Autism Self-Assessment Test

Science Photo Library Image

People with autism have less activity in the amygdala (shown in red), which helps process emotions

A self-assessment test for autism has been developed by psychologists at Cardiff University. Autism is found in more than one in 100 people and this new test may be able to help adults self identify behaviors.  The test, currently be trialled  in clinics in the UK,  measures the extent adults are affected by repetitive behaviors- a criteria used to diagnose autism. 

The research, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, focuses on how much people indulge in common habits and routines such as lining up objects, arranging them into patterns and fiddling obsessively with things to help clinicians diagnose them.

It found consistently higher scores for people with autism after it was trialled on 311 people.

Calling the test a “useful new resource”, Meleri Thomas of the National Autistic Society Cymru says, “Although, as researchers make clear, it’s not a diagnostic tool in itself, it could help some adults explore whether they seek a full diagnostic assessment.”

 

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‘FVC’ Features a Comic Book Hero with Autism

 

Face Value Comics (FVC) is a new comic series that centers around the autistic character of Michael and his friends, as they embark on adventures in a steampunk world filled with aliens and robots.

With the release of the all-female Ghostbusters reboot fast approaching, the U.S. has seen an increasing effort to diversify lead characters in all forms of media.

We can now follow resilient heroines in such movies as The Hunger Games and Insurgent or even Ms. Marvel, as she juggles her identity as a Muslim Pakistani-American with her crime-fighting duties. 

Children and teens from diverse backgrounds have ready access to characters they can easily identify with as protagonists shift away from the generic main character of white male. This also opens up a dialogue about neurodiversity.

This was notably seen in the bestselling series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, where a young Percy battles, not only with Greek gods and goddesses, but also with ADHD and dyslexia. Both disabilities are major influences in the novel’s character development as the series progresses – issues that the author’s young son actually has. There was also the long-running series Monk, which had a titular character with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

However, the genre rarely showcases notable neuro-diverse supporting characters with conditions like autism, much less lead characters. Enter Face Value Comics (FVC), a new comic series that centers around the autistic character of Michael and his friends, as they embark on adventures in a steampunk world filled with aliens and robots.

Retailing at around $6 per issue, the series is professionally drawn with a flowing, easy-to-follow layout. It also introduces the steampunk universe, which is not often seen in young adult fiction.

With neuro-diverse readers in mind, the creators wanted a popular, relatable medium, rather than just another “teaching tool,” something that could be picked up off of a local library shelf next to the classic heroes we see every day. 

Autism is certainly not the character’s entire identity but simply a defining trait as part of a whole. Like most children, Michael and his friends eagerly wait for the new adventures with their favorite superheroes and role model, The Zephyr. But Michael also struggles with some actions and moral decisions in everyday life while facing threats much larger than himself.

For parents who worry about certain aspects of traditional comic books, such as violence and moral ambiguity, FVC adheres to very strict ethical guidelines. Profanity and overt sexuality are prohibited, while violence is kept to a minimum and only occurs if it is central to the plot. 

Family values, as use of the Facial Action Coding System (which is actually labeled in-story for the reader’s benefit) are far more emphasized, as vocal or silent autistic characters make their way through their steampunk universe, dealing with anything from giant robots to peer pressure and bullying.

The series is now on its third issue and is available at multiple online stores and some libraries. For parents who are curious and want to check out the art and direction of the comics before investing in them for their own child, FVC offers example pages and sketches on their Facebook page.

By: Raquel Rose

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