Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Florida mother selected to test Google Glass as way to shine light on son's autism

From The Ocala Star Banner in Florida:

Delsa Darline used video to help doctors diagnose her son as autistic at just 14 months old, and she hopes the emerging technology of Google Glass may help lead to new therapies for the growing number of children with the disorder.

When Rory was a baby, Darline noticed he had certain sensitivities that would cause him to cry in an alarming fashion. She began to take videos of him in various situations around their home in Ocala. The videos helped Darline communicate with her son's speech, occupational and physical therapists.

"Technology has been an incredibly valuable tool for us," she said, adding that she has always had a passion for helping other parents dealing with autistic children.

So when Darline heard Google was looking for "bold, creative individuals" to test and gauge how people would want to use its newest product, she leapt at the chance.

Google Glass is electronic eyewear that connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The device includes a camera, display, touchpad, battery and microphone, all built into a narrow frame that spans the face from ear to ear. Still in the development phase, the wearable computer is not expected to be available for purchase by consumers until late this year or early 2014.

Except, that is, to early "Glass Explorers," who were selected in a contest held through Google Plus and Twitter. Applicants explained, in 50 words or fewer, how they would use the device. They could include up to five photos and a 15-second video.

Darline knew right away what she would do with Google Glass, she said. Even though Rory "doesn't seem autistic to many people," she noted, he was diagnosed early — at 14 months — partly because of technology. She said there are varying levels of autism. Children who fall within the spectrum, she said, "may have trouble with social interactions, communication and behavior."

"And there is no cure. There is no direct way of therapy," she said. It can be difficult for parents as well as their children with autism.

"There is an extremely fine line between a meltdown and a tantrum," she said, explaining that a meltdown requires the child to be soothed, but a tantrum needs to be addressed as a behavioral issue.

As a board member for the Ocala Autism Support Network, Darline said she knew there was a need for support for other parents of autistic children locally and beyond. Google Glass, she said, would simply make it easier for her to capture "raw moments" that could help other parents distinguish between a meltdown and a tantrum, and to give them hope that there are many "positive moments," which should be celebrated.

Carmen Martinez, who also has a son, age 8, with autism, and who became connected with Darline through the Ocala Autism Support Network, said she feels it is extremely helpful to have the support and advice of other parents, especially with the use of video.

"I don't see autism as a disability. It's more of a 'challenge' that parents have to deal with," Martinez said. "It's hard to explain to doctors and other people what is going on with your child when, in the morning, they may have an unexpected meltdown and then in the afternoon they're just calm. Having videos is very helpful."

After submitting her entry to become a Google Glass Explorer, Darline soon was selected to become one of the nation's 8,000 developers. To ensure participation in the development/research project, Google required each developer to pay $1,500 for their Google Glasses. Darline said she found private sponsors to pay for hers.

Other Google Glass Explorers include surgeons, authors, skydivers, individuals with disabilities, and a wide variety of people from various walks of life. Darline said she chats online with other explorers through private explorer forums and completes a developer survey for Google every two months.

Darline said she uses Google Glass "as a mom" to help other parents, but because she wears the eyewear on a daily basis, she also acts as a spokesperson for the device itself.

To activate the device, Darline will speak in a natural voice, "OK Glass," and then she gives a voice command such as "Take a picture" or "Take a video." She can view a playback of pictures or video with the wearable technology, and can go online with the device and also make calls.

"Everybody is very interested in them," Darline said, noting she was surprised that people of the older generation seem more interested in the device than anyone else.

"I always let people try them out. It's important because there is a concern for privacy. Many people do hear incorrect information, but most people are excited to try them out," she said.

Darline noted that a light is displayed if she is taking a video or picture, so others know if she is recording while wearing the device. And certain features, such as facial recognition, are disabled. Besides, she said, the information accessed through Google Glass is the very same information accessible through a person's smartphone.

Some public places, such as casinos, have already banned Google Glass.

Darline said she feels Google Glass will change how the public uses technology, but she emphasized that Google is being very careful to make people feel comfortable with wearable technology.

"I'm proud of how Google is handling the development of this device, actually," she said.

In the meantime, she added, she is thrilled to help other parents and let them know, "You're not the only person going through this."

Darline is the only Google Glass Explorer in Marion County. There are a couple of others in Florida. For more information about Google Glass, visit