Years ago, I moved to Canada to pursue my Ph.D. in Management Information Systems. During the course of this program, my wife and I noticed that our son was unable to speak or communicate. He made no eye contact and when he looked at me, he looked right through me. He couldn’t understand or respond when I talked to him and there was no recognition in his eyes.
We finally learned that he suffered from autism; we felt like we had failed him somehow. Accepting the diagnosis was the most painful part of all, but we gradually came to terms with the reality.
For years my son was in the care of an agency, and I noticed that their methods were not effective for him. Changing his learning pattern or having other people work with him was a challenge. My son liked routine, but too much also impeded his progress. What he needed was a structured and consistent learning style to broaden his learning capacity. However, he needed these lessons for a minimum of 8 continuous hours in order to fully grasp any new word, habit or function.
Speech therapists were much needed but quite expensive; my son regularly required at least 4 hours and the hourly cost was a stretch for our budget.
He has now completed 8th grade and is gearing up for high school. He is in a regular school with other kids, goes to school on his own, and can perform his daily tasks. He is able to read, so I take him with me to places like McDonald’s, so he can practice skills like ordering food. He also bikes, shops with credit cards and loves to watch airplanes.
Throughout the course of my research into hacking my son’s learning capacity, I discovered the refreshing concept of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Positive reinforcement is an example of an ABA principle that’s applied to influence a child’s behavior and help them learn.
Using these techniques, I helped my son understand the concepts behind abstract words like “love,” by modeling them in practice.
My background as a software designer is the best way I know how to help my son; it led me to create my passion project, the City of Autism, in 2008. My computer app teaches autistic people how to learn and encourages them to speak and begin communicating with others.
Our ERP complex intelligent applications are suitable for autistic people between the ages of 4 and 30 years old. This app is a small part of my larger vision for the City of Autism, which is to build learning centers around the globe. The journey of teaching and raising an autistic child is continuous, and my mission is to offer families practical learning tools that are effective and accessible.
We are eager to work with families and help make the experience positive and maybe even fun.
My son was in the care of an agency for many years, and I couldn’t help but notice that their methods were not working for him. What he really needed was a defined and consistent learning style which would keep broadening his learning capacity. He had to be exposed to these lessons for at least 8 effective hours consistently to grasp any new action, word or habit satisfactorily. We also had difficulties with getting him a speech therapist as their services were quite expensive and he needed at least 4 hours of speech therapy regularly; managing autism is certainly hard work and $120 per hour was quite a stretch for us.
As a father, I did my best to save him. I spent considerable financial resources and time on searching out the various tools that could help improve his quality of life. I realized that the best thing to do for him was to keep getting him to learn new things, words, methods of communicating, all at his own pace. It would not be advisable to give up on helping him. Thankfully, I was already past the point where I wanted to just whine, get or discouraged. I wanted to give my son the best he could have. So I set about learning “how” to make his learning easier.
I started to help improve his eye contact using my own methods, and within 6 months, his eye contact had really improved. I would sometimes stand behind him and encourage him to make contact with me in order to communicate more effectively. I also tweaked his diet by eliminating sugars and decreasing carbohydrates. My wife would ask him, “What is today called?” I would tell him, “Today is Monday,” and he realized that was what he was supposed to say. We repeated those exercises over and over until he caught it. I eventually employed the use of PowerPoint and QBasic software to help him learn. He seemed to never get tired of the computer, and what’s more, it was a much cheaper method of teaching him new things.
Generally, he seemed to learn names faster than dates, coins, and feelings. Our most challenging periods with him were the times we had to change his learning pattern or whenever other people had to work with him. He liked routine, but too much routine also impeded his progress.
It’s been a long, arduous journey, but it’s also been worth every drop of sweat we put in. He has now completed 8th grade and is gearing up for high school now. He is in a regular school with other kids, goes to school on his own, and is able to perform his daily tasks. He is able to read now, and I take him with me to stores such as McDonald so he can practice making his own meal orders. He bikes, shops with credit cards and also loves to see airplanes.
In the course of my research into getting him to learn better, I discovered a refreshing concept called Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). ABA “focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place and Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for encouraging positive behavior and for reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. ABA is the application of these techniques and principles in order to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior." Instructors use this and other visual learning methods to help autistic children learn. I eventually learned to help my son understand words like “love” and “understand” by teaching them in practice.
I have worked as a software designer for more than 20 years so, in 2008, I started working on a passion project that eventually birthed the City of Autism. I was designing a computer application built on advanced technology, which could be used to help autistic children learn. This app is fitted out with functions that encourage them to talk and begin to communicate with others, specially created for autistic children and adults between the ages of 4 to 30 years. This application is just a part of my larger vision for City of Autism, which is to build and run autism learning centers in cities around the globe. My mission is to assist people who need the kind of help I have been able to provide my son.
The journey of teaching and raising an autistic child is a continuous one, and as one celebrates the little victories of new lessons and behavioral patterns mastered, one must gear up for the next step, and the next and the next. The good news is… no parent has to do it alone once they can trust us with their children. We are eager to work with kids and their parents alike, to make the experience bearable and maybe, even fun for them.
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