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Autism Culture Round-Up: Location Apps, Animals and Autism, and Art

As we continue to take a close look each week at the ways autism manifests in our popular and local culture, we first take a look at the ever-fruitful intersection between autism and technology.

Most parents would be quick to admit that if they could track every moment of their child to ensure his or her safety, they would jump at the opportunity. However, for parents of children on the autism spectrum, the uncertainty and anxiety caused by not knowing where a child is, even for a second, can be crippling.

But if there is a real emergency, simply knowing the location of your child might not be enough. AngelSense is an app and wearable device that was recently updated with a new feature for emergency situations called First Responder Alert. The First Responder Alert will message a parent with the location of their child, along with data that states how long it takes him or her to get to a certain location.

A 2012 study in Pediatrics found that 49% of parents with a child with autism reported that their children at one point tried to run away after the age of four. By affixing a child with the wearable GPS tracker, AngelSense collects location data every ten seconds while sending text alerts to parents when a child’s phone is moving. While it still remains to be seen how this app will affect parents’ day-to-day lives, it certainly is a promising breakthrough.

In other local news, a recent story made the rounds about a young boy diagnosed with autism who lead a very quiet, internal life that was completely changed when he made a bond with a puppy. As we’ve discussed the power of dogs and children with autism at length in the past, the story of John Hickey provides a unique twist on this relation when his family adopted a puppy named Xena who was struggling for her life.

Once Jonny met Xena the Warrior Puppy, his parents soon decided to adopt the dog, causing an almost overnight transformation in Jonny. “It was an unbelievable change,” his mother Linda Hickey said. “We wanted to share Jonny and Xena’s story and find a way to make a difference in our community.” Indeed, their story will likely inspire other families to invest in a pet as a companion to children with autism.

Finally, going back to the rich connection between art and autism, we travel to Indianapolis, IN to visit John Tran, a young boy with severe autism who has experienced an incredible metamorphosis through art. Tran’s road towards art began when he met neuroscientist Jane Yip, who at first had difficulty with his inability to talk or respond to commands.

“He’s resistant to training and he would just lie on the floor. We have to move him. It seems like on some level he has given up,” Yip says. “Everything is so difficult – not only that he cannot talk – cognitively he is not understanding and there is nothing for him in the world.”

After two years with little success, Yip eventually asked John what he wanted to do and the young boy quickly went for a piece of paper, some crayons, and soon began drawing furiously. The results were incredible. Within three months, he soon laughed for the first time in his life and was more social and outgoing than ever before, once again showing the power of art and autism.