Friday, September 30, 2011
In the 6 years we've been doing what we do, we've installed computers for kids from every race, origin and background. Recently though, we found ourselves in the Pflugerville ISD Autism Resource Database. How that happened, I haven't one clue, but we are there none the less.
The phone calls and requests for computers for Autistic kids has been overwhelming. I don't mean "overwhelming" in an off-hand way nor am I engaging in hyperbole. I mean the requests literally pushed us to the limit of our resources and abilities. I've had to say no to more people in the past 15 days than I've done in the past 3 years.
Unfortunately, we've run into an inordinate amount of people who cannot or will not understand that we serve the financially disadvantaged specifically. Some teacher(s), somewhere, sent a memo home with the kids saying that Autistic children qualify for a free computer.
Many have been angry with us for denying them a free machine but what can I say when there is a 2010 Volvo and a 2009 Ford pickup in the driveway? We offer to sell even financially stable people a complete computer syatem for 100.00, but many are unhappy with that. Regardless of their positive financial circumstance, the note little Johnny sent home said it was "FREE".
We're basically out of stuff, trying to make everyone happy.
For those we could help though, it's been a reciprocal exchange. While my educational background is in behavioral psychology, I knew little of Autism or those who care for the Autistic. In my mind, it was some poorly defined and abstract condition that came up in the news, in overheard conversations or fund raising events. It did not have any tangible impact on me, my organization or my psyche.
And I'm not sure who I have the most sympathy for, the Autistic or those charged with their care.
Let me state for the record here, I am not an expert in Autism and in no way claim to be. What I say is based on the few weeks I've been exposed to it and the reading I've done on the subject matter.
But to my point.....
Teaching people to replace the operating system they know with one they do not has been a challenge in itself. The resistance is often strong but the majority of the time, we are able to help our clients find their confidence and comfort level and we all move on.
However, when dealing with an Autistic child, the variables change drastically. Autistic children, for the most part find great comfort in routine and rote. Getting them to move on to another level of their self-care or education is one of the largest hurdles the caregiver faces.
Being as impartial and honest as I can be, the basic Linux gamesphere, to include the educational applications, fall short of the Autistic child's needs. Of course, I understand that it was never geared for this, but I believe there needs to be some awareness of the condition and a way we, as an Open Source Community, can help.
Zac Browser is designed for the Autistic child, it provides much of the stimuli needed for growth and learning.
It almost runs on Linux...almost.
In both Wine and the Codeweaver products it will load but ultimately, it hangs, freezes, jumps and almost always a hard shutdown is necessary to get out of it. I've tried it on several machines with various distros and the results have all been poor.
Linux, as in many other areas, just doesn't quite measure up here, and I think, at least in this case, we can fix that. When you are dealing with special needs children, the model of "good enough for me" won't work. I understand the whole scratching an itch thing, but we're dealing with kids who must use Linux because that's all they can afford. I believe we have the talent pool to at least match the proprietary apps out there. Yeah, I'm talking sparkles, dancing ponies and rainbows...
To me, it's a way for the caregiver, teacher or professional to "park" the kid while they go see to the other children. Caring for a classroom full of Autistic kids is the toughest juggling task I can think of.
Number one, we cannot keep regular flat panel monitors in stock, not to mention the expense of purchasing touch screens. Number two, let's teach the child to use a mouse.
What I would like to see is a sparkled, verbal, full screen application that teaches the child how that mouse works. "Hey, YOU DID IT" resounds when the child gets the task right. Or..."Not quite but close, let's try that again".
Tuxmath or Tuxtyping comes to mind in style and purpose. I've tried to contact the developers about this several times in the past two weeks but as of yet, there has been no response.
I don't write software and I don't have time to learn how to...not at this level. I am imploring those who have the skills to contact me and let's talk this through...at least to see what can be done or if it can be done. Maybe it's already out there and I missed it. If you need money to do this, I will find you a sponsor or if I can't do that, I will take on side work to pay you what I can.
What I do know is that Linux can make a difference in the life of an Autistic child and those who care for her.
I'm simply asking for a few people to help make that difference.
Edit - within 48 hours of this posting, we have a python developer and several professionals in the autism field who are being pulled together as a DevTeam. We will publish the early team members here by mid-week. Hopefully, we will also have the beginnings of a software map for this project...yet unnamed.
blather and mumbling provided by Ken Starks at 4:33 PM