Just recently I had an idea, as I do about 10 times a week, and it was an idea that sparked excitement, my blood pumped just a bit faster, I was grinning inside — until… well reality set in and the sounds of another email rang true and my iPhone dinged for my attention.
Yet, just as quickly as I heard the dreaded call of normalcy, a few things happened. Multiple coincidences started developing around this idea, words, web results, even a disconnected WiFi connection brought me all to the same conclusion. That was simply, get on the rollercoaster and see what happens. Throw caution to the wind… blah blah — cliche it up or what have you — it just made sense to pursue the connections and breathe life into something new, or fall flat on my face — But just DO IT damn it.
So I put my mundane shit aside and followed through with some contacts. My WiFi access point stopped working, a Unifi product, that weird cosmic experience caused me to reach out to a long time colleague and friend Robin Alter here on LinkedIn, who had a company similar in name. Years back we worked on a startup and casually chatted about our experiences and passions. One of which was the Virtual and Augmented Reality space. I was mesmerized with how much technology had evolved, constantly breaking down the barriers of how people learned, and experienced the world.
Anyway, we made plans to talk and eventually connected right after the 4th of July. We caught up on life and I eventually got around to my idea — it was so fresh in my mind and I was eager to share, but instead of a clear composed plan a mess of detailed concepts and applications covered Robin with a mess of abstract excitement. Half way through the conversation I was mentally talking myself out of it. Lucky for me Robin had the experience and the patience to listen and respond in a manner fitting for me to absorb — he was honest and diplomatically pointed out the validity and difficulty of it’s adoption. My idea wasn’t ground breaking and while possibly helpful for people wanting to learn how to exercise properly, it was not easily marketable or monetizable. So while I was left slightly disappointed my gut was still telling me to push through and understand the reason, if not only to reconnect, I was speaking to Robin. There had to be something more, so I googled his company while we continued the conversation and started to remember the past project he was working on…
After a brief pause in the conversation, gears switched to a more personal nature. We spoke about the past and where we were now — current projects and future travels; when just then after reading about his VR ventures, the culmination of all those cosmic signs I had been seeing came together in the last 10 minutes of the call. A new idea that brought together a very personal part of my family life, with the growing and fantastic technologies in the VR & AR space. Robin had voiced interest in pursuing a project like this, and I was hooked.
We concluded the call, and agreed to meet after he had returned from his travels. I was excited and baffled with how to engage this tremendous solution or solutions with my limited knowledge on the technological VR / AR side, but hugely familiar with the real life experience side. You are probably thinking, cmon Jim spit it out…Right?!
OK.. ok.. — first a bit of background on the personal aspect of why things clicked.
My daughter, at the age of 3, was showing signs [ tics] and mannerisms that were not common place and my wife and I started our journey on a diagnoses, her name is Abigail. In the meantime, she found herself out of place in daycares, and preschools alike, where the staff were ill prepared, unwilling or lacked the experience to handle my daughters antisocial and at time violent behavior. Yet, with all the craziness going on, we found that she was very well spoken for a three year old, fearless, and a talented artist. An example below.
At 5, after only two days in aftercare, she managed to undermine the program staff members somehow tricking them into a false sense of security, while she invaded a stock room and destroyed the program director office. This stuck so much fear in the director that an older boy was asked to stand guard until we arrived. I got the call, and as much as it was humorous to Dad, it was just the beginning. In August of 2015, Abigail was diagnosed the High Functioning Autism, and ADHD, later in September Tourettes as well as social delays were added to the diagnosis. Worry settled in.
High functioning autism (HFA), sometimes called mild autism or — until 2013 — Asperger syndrome, is often diagnosed when individuals are teens or adults. … This means that the person being diagnosed as an adult has always had symptoms of autism, but somehow those symptoms flew under the radar for years.
Kindergarten, welcome to the jungle I thought as I dropped her off at school. Now there was no out, as the state requires you attend school despite your “issues”, by this point we had been through all the DCIU programs, the doctors and advisors, the meeting and tests. This would be ground zero to understanding who Abigail was, and how we could best understand how to help her. Social workers were assigned and the school year began. Everyday, I waited for my phone to ring…Abby is under her desk, Abby is throwing books, Abby ran around the school and won’t come back… it was terrifying and very frustrating.
We sought therapy, child lead play, social cue learning, counselors, and mild sleep aids at night. We tried Karate to focus her, swimming for her to socialize and even summer camp…but unfortunately camp was short lived and she was removed from the program…
Traditional tools usually used to engage and encourage positive social behavior all failed. She began to get overly frustrated and angry with herself, self deprecating, and we felt helpless, as we had to wait till her cycle of hatred, anger and forgiveness came full circle.
Fast forward to the 2nd grade, Abby had slowly progressed into a smart, yet socially ill equipped girl running on instinct and emotion. Even with state appointed 1on1 time, regular breaks and frequent trips to a sensory room, public school was unable to handle her needs and we were forced to make a big life decision for Abby. Her running and hiding around the school became commonplace, physical altercations with staff and the disruption of class for the other students prompted a meeting with 12 staff and external psychologists and lawyers. A walkie-talkie system was even in place to alert the school of Abby, it was as bad as one could imagine. We felt lost, and options seemed to limited, even more so we had two other children to care for which made planning and financial strain overwhelming.
So where do we go from here? A school funded outplacement program for my daughter thats what. A school an hour from our home designed to suit her specific needs and social deficient development. A small class with other students with a wide range of spectrum related disorders, some much more obvious and impacting. It was our only option.
On top of that we have been forced to expose our daughter to a pharmacy of drugs that have shown some value in the treatment of her tics, mannerisms, social frustrations, focus and sleep deprivation. Yet these drugs, while working, have tremendous side effects that continue to grow and adapt as she gets older. Everything is either numbed or embellished, she is constantly fighting internally, mentally to figure out how to be herself. These included the sounds and visual stimuli around her, her ability to make friends and keep them, her understanding of how to be a ten year old in a sea of confusing social technology on top of the hyper sensitive nature of today’s society.
It’s a minefield for her, just to be normal, and today’s view on normal is quite confusing in its own right. I want to find a better solution for her and others like her, and I truly believe that technological advances in virtual reality and augmented reality can act as a guide to teaching her mind how to relate to real environments, social situations all in a safe space.
That is why this one cosmic conversation sparked this mission for me, and this article is just the first step in voicing that initiative. Again, I am no expert in this area, but firmly believe this can help!
I am gathering experts in the field of VR / MR & AR, and also those who have personal connections with children and adults on the Autistic spectrum, to participate in building a platform to aid in the reprogramming or virtual learning of social interaction, sensory education, and emotional training — not only to increase the quality life of these individuals, but to enhance their strengths. Together, we can provide this platform to schools and universities to give people on the Autistic Spectrum a renewed view on life and allow them to mentally educate themselves through interactive Virtual and Augmented Reality programs within the educational system, or from the comfort of their own home.
If you would like to join the effort, please contact me on LinkedIn or here on my website. Thanks for your time and attention.