While dealing with their own internal troubles Hewlett Packard still is active in humanitarian issues. The HP Hackathon draws upon software developers from the general community to build applications to help autistic children. Drawing attention to the project is Doug Flutie, former NFL quarterback, whose son is one of those children. Flutie has a foundation directed towards the disorder.
HP's Personal Systems Group (PSG) announced seven new applications to be made available at no charge to the autistic community. The ideas were selected from more than 250 submissions. Phil McKinney, Vice President at HP, invited participation: "We encourage developers to join us at the Hackathon in October."
Encouragement comes in the form of a testimonial by Jordan whose "Silent No More" passage tells of his journey and the role technology played. His touching words inspired the Hacking Autism logo – which shows a bird set free with a song to sing.
Further encouragement comes from the organization’s advisory board which includes representatives not only from HP, but also from Intel, Disney, and the May Institute.
Andy Shih, Ph.D., a VP at Autism Speaks, a scientific and advocacy group, confirmed: "Not only have we seen innovations in technology rapidly advance to provide solutions to improve daily life for individuals with autism, we have seen the tremendous effects of these technologies on language, academic skills, social skills and executive functioning in children with autism." Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral struggles.
Simon Wallace, PhD, director of scientific development Europe for Autism Speaks, indicated that web chats drew input for the Advisory Board regarding the needs and objectives of the community. "It’s not often that a mom or dad, or a teacher who works with a child with autism, gets to tell a software designer what type of tools they need to enhance their loved one’s life," Flutie said.
Applications that are on the drawing board are:
- Social Stories - to decrease a child’s anxiety in an unfamiliar situation.
- Calendar / Time Management - includes visual reminders and audible cues for transitions to different scheduled activities, and space to record what the child did on any given day.
- Medical / Progress Journal - to track behaviors, diet, therapy sessions, exercises done at home.
- Communication - to help non-verbal individuals or those with sensory overload to communicate through symbols and icons.
- Safety Skills - teaching skills of daily living, such as crossing a street, riding a bike, or fire and water safety.
- Bullying - shows examples of how to deal with bullies, and how a child can alert an adult if they are involved in a bullying incident.
- AAC / Communication / F.A.C.E. - by touching an icon a specific vocabulary word is reached. It is a means of learning words and using them to communicate.
What does it take to become involved in bringing these applications to fruition? The Hackathon is recruiting people with the following skills: software development, UI, user experience, project management and quality assurance. If you don’t qualify under those specifications, you can still help bring awareness of the program and the applications to your community - follow Doug Flutie’s example.
The 1984 Heisman Trophy winner is now an advocate for families dealing with autism. In addition to experiencing verbal and non-verbal communication difficulties children and adults with autism have problems participating in leisure or play activities. How did the famous football player who came out of Boston College to play 21 seasons in 3 football leagues and on 8 teams, including the Bears, Patriots, Bills, and Chargers, cope with a son who could not look forward to a similar career, nor even take part in the sport at school?
Flutie responded by founding the Doug Flutie Jr Foundation which supports families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder by increasing awareness of the challenges of living with autism and helping families find resources.
The Foundation funds educational, therapeutic, recreational and advocacy programs. The Foundation formed a partnership with Hewlett Packard to distribute over 310 computers to underprivileged families of children with autism. Now those computer owners will have access to applications developed specifically to help those children.
October 11, 2011 is the day HP hosts the event. Individuals and teams can register at Hacking Autism. The Hackathon apps will be available for free on HackingAutism.org when completed.