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Autism and Culture Round-up: Charities Call for Action, Navy Creates Autism App, and Video Games during Autism Awareness Month

This week, we continue our investigation into the growing market for autism-focused apps and video game initiatives aimed at engaging children and adults with autism while looking at a growing movement amongst autism charities in the UK fighting for better training with public schools to help those better handle and help students with autism.

First up, two prominent British autism charities recently published a letter in The Guardian calling for increased nationwide autism training for teachers to cut down young students being misunderstood by their peers. If all goes according to plan for the charities, autism training will become part of the standard training for teachers.

Put together by the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Ambitious about Autism, the campaign argues that with more than 1% of children on the autism spectrum and almost three-quarters of them in mainstream schools, virtually every teacher will have autistic students in a class at some point. Mark Lever, the Chief Executive of the NAS, said thousands of autistic children were being disadvantaged every year. He said: “This is one of the reasons that children on the autism spectrum are four times more likely to be excluded than those without special educational needs.”

Now moving from across the pond to the U.S. Navy, they recently announced the development of a mobile app that was originally developed to help those with autism and tweak it into an app that can help soldiers suffering from PTSD. So how does it work? Facial expressions can indicate the presence of autism, PTSD and other disorders. The Autism & Beyond app uses a smartphone camera and an algorithm to read children’s facial expressions and assess their emotional responses.

According to Pedja Neskovic who is overseeing the project for the Navy, “It can find patterns, not just in facial expressions but in different kinds of data sets, such as brain signals and speech, and it can be used on a continuous basis. It’s a completely new world.” The app, which uses a general algorithm, could be expanded to PTSD to monitor people over time if speech and other signals are taken into account. We’ll be watching this story to see its affect on both people with autism and PTSD.

Finally, continuing our ongoing look at the intersection of autism and video games, GameStop, one of the country’s largest game retailers, has announced a massive fundraising and Omni channel campaign to raise awareness about awareness. And it’s not just corporate who’s pushing for this effort; employees too have been eager to make donations, which GameStop is in turn matching in triplicate.

“We are proud to partner with Autism Speaks this April,” said Matt Hodges, Vice President of Public and Investor Relations. “This partnership is extra special to the GameStop family. Many of our associates and customers have shared how the video game and technology products we sell have helped them have a meaningful relationship with their child who has autism. We look forward to a successful campaign and helping those families impacted by autism.”

The donations raised through the GameStop campaign will help fund the Autism Speaks Family Services iPad Grant program, which provides iPads to financially disadvantaged children and adults with autism. Yet another testament of the power of autism to enact change.