Why Autism Support Needs Technology Professionals

March 4, 2020 | Tim Rexer

Technology professionals solve problems differently. It is for this reason that technology has progressed so quickly in the last half-century. Things that we take for granted today, were only possible in the realm of science fiction 30 years ago. Thanks to the work of technology professionals like Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin the technology of today is possible. However, the tools available to those who are diagnosed with autism are not as well developed as the tools available to other professions. This is not due to lack of effort by those working in autism today, but a lack of technology professionals working in the field.

In 1988, the idea of the internet as it exists today was impossible. Interconnected computers were contained within individual networks. These networks were either academic or military networks such as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). Additionally, there were other private networks such as AOL, which originally started as Quantum Computer Services, which networked individual computers, originally for gaming, but later for other interactions such as chat, auctions, etc. However, because these networks were contained to specific companies or entities, they didn’t really exist across networks like the internet we know today. Today, whether a website or service is hosted by Google, Netflix, GoDaddy, Comcast, Time Warner, or any of the other hundred providers, it is still reachable by any machine on any other network. This type of connectivity wasn’t possible until the advent of the internet, it isn’t because there were any technology hurdles to overcome, but because business were only focused on themselves. It was because of professionals like Tim Berner-Lee and the other founders of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which helped to define the protocols that make the internet possible.

This type of problem solving is what is needed in the autism community. While there have been groundbreaking developments with companies like Uber who leverage technology to disrupt the business environment, this type of development isn’t occurring in the autism community. The type of development that is happening, starts with therapists and other autism professionals. While they have been doing a great job, they don’t approach problems the same way. They approach problems with the question of how can we use technology to improve an existing therapeutic process. This isn’t a bad approach, but it doesn’t leverage technology to its fullest extent. The question that needs to be asked, is how can we leverage technology to improve the lives of those diagnosed with autism. They’re similar questions, but the result is drastically different. An example of the technology first question is exemplified by the Autism Glass Project. This team at Stanford is approaching the problem with how can they improve the lives of those with autism by leveraging technology. Their solution is brilliant, leverage machine learning and Google Glass to provide real-time insight into social cues to people with autism. This can not only improve individual interactions with one another, but can improve their quality of life since better social interaction lets them participate in more social situations and even more easily develop friendships. It is this approach to technology and autism that allows for huge strides to be made.

Now comes the big question, as a technology professional, how can I help. First thing you can do is reach out to one of the tools listed in our Available Tools page and get involved in the project. These tools are open source and looking for contributors to help develop and maintain their projects. You can also get involved with us directly, while we are just getting off the ground right now, we have a couple different projects in mind, but need the development help ourselves to get them off the ground. We are also working with the Autism Institute at Drexel to determine what the needs of the autism community are and how we can help them the most. We are looking for technology professionals in all areas from devops and data engineers to front-end developers and machine learning professionals. Everyone from all backgrounds and skill sets are welcome.