Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NY video game creator devises software that designs picture cards for children with autism

From the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

After nine years creating video games, Ben Throop recently launched a Web site he says helps educate children with learning disabilities, specifically autism.

More than 2,700 users have created picture cards containing either photos, symbols or plain text from a site called Mrs. Riley ( Animals, vegetables, school supplies and other images are among about 3,000 symbols available that can be placed onto a variety of template sizes.

The Web site lists parents, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and autism specialists as users. Mrs. Riley makes it easy to make and download the cards, and it is readily availability, said Throop, of Fairport.

"Even before a child can learn to talk, they think in language," he said. "Using video supports like this alleviates frustrations with anybody who has a hard time communicating."

Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears in the first three years of a child's life, according to the Autism Society of America. About 1.5 million Americans are autistic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with autism typically have problems communicating verbally and nonverbally, and don't interact well.

The online cards are created through computer software Throop created called PageBuilder. Cards can also be stored; users with paid memberships can share images online as well.

A monthly membership ranges from $5 to $45 depending on the length of the subscription. A 24-hour free trial is also available.

Throop has experience designing video games for Sony and Activision. His wife, Kristin McCole, is an autism specialist.

Recognition of Mrs. Riley is slowly building locally, said Throop, who recently conducted a presentation in the Marion Central School District, Wayne County. No area school districts are currently using Mrs. Riley.

Mark Wolery, a professor of special education at Vanderbilt University, is using the visual aids in a research project involving children with autism and other learning disabilities.

"That's a real advance over more common picture and symbol programs," he said. "I think that will be a tremendous asset for speech pathologists and teachers."