Weekly Web Round-Up: Week of November 30, 2012

We hope you had a relaxing, enjoyable Thanksgiving and are completely rested after having a house full of relatives. And now, December is knocking on the door. We know that you may already be caught up in the pre-holiday buzz, so take a few minutes to sit down and enjoy this week’s web round-up.

Do you remember when we told you about Allison Tate and her decision to be in pictures with her kids? This week, she wrote about the process of getting ready for the family holiday card portrait—getting the kids dressed, picking out an outfit for herself, and wrangling in the kids to get them to pose. She also talks about her decision to be in all the pictures this holiday season, from her annual Christmas Eve dinner to opening presents in her pajamas on Christmas morning.

One small step toward these goals, for me, has been staying in the pictures. My friends are already starting to get the hang of asking each other to take pictures of us with our kids when we are out at an event or activity, and my 8-year-old is learning to use the Instagram camera app on my phone. I have embraced the (to me) imperfect and the spontaneous. I’m going to be in the pictures of us at our annual Christmas Eve dinner, dressed up and posing, but I will also be in the pictures on Christmas morning in our jammies and in my glasses. This holiday season is a moment in time for my family, and it will be captured in its entirety. I am determined to include myself, because I complete the picture. (Repeat to self as needed.)

 

In August, Matthew Walzer, who has Cerebral Palsy, wrote a letter to the CEO of Nike, Mark Parker, in which he requests that Nike make shoes with the support he needs to walk, but without laces because he can’t tie them. His request was fulfilled, but Nike only supplied Walzer with the shoes. Ellen of Love That Max has written her own letter on behalf of her son Max in favor of Nike creating a line of athletic shoes for kids and adults with special needs.

Of course, it’s a heartwarming story for all to hear; it’s nice to know that companies care. Still, here’s the thing: We parents of kids with special needs would like to think it’s more than a token act of goodness. There are thousands more Matthews with cerebral palsy who sure would love an adaptive pair of Nike sneakers, just as there are many parents who’d like their kids to be able to wear the sneakers they grew up in and love…. Nike has a reputation for social good. Nike also has the smarts and technology to manufacture a line of sneakers for kids and adults with disabilities. How awesome would it be for a major apparel company to do that? I can’t think of any other mass ones that make products for people with disabilities. You could, once again, show the world the way to innovate. And you are cool enough not to name the sneakers ortho-anything!

 

Meet Bandit, a child-sized robot and the new face of therapy for children with autism.

Researchers have found that children with autism are more likely to interact with and respond more naturally to machines because they are predictable, unlike humans. University of  Southern California computer scientist and project leader Maja Matari´c used to research military applications but decided to change her field when she became a mother. The team’s goal is to make therapy more available for childre, and while robots can’t totally replace human therapists, they “could offer an added advantage by giving parents and caregivers a systematic way to track improvements or setbacks in their child’s therapy.” Although it may take time to fully develop the robot and have it be affordable for families, studies have already shown it to be a successful therapy method.

Matari´c is cautiously optimistic—as a mother herself, she doesn’t want to give false hope to parents of autistic children—but she does occasionally drop her reserve. She recalls one child, a high-functioning nine-year-old autistic boy who struggled to communicate and interact with others. Bandit seemed to change that. Playing with the robot, the boy was more chatty and interactive with his mother. But as he tried to involve Bandit in a game of tag, he became frustrated. The robot didn’t understand him—the scientists hadn’t programmed in the ability to play this game. When the boy realized that Bandit wasn’t going to comply, he stunned the observers by saying, “Now I know how my teachers feel.”

Matari´c was astonished. This was totally unexpected behavior. Even the boy’s mother was surprised. Empathy is one of those skills autistic children typically lack; this boy wasn’t supposed to be aware of his teachers’ frustration. “That’s a profound level of self-understanding and introspection, and if these kids have it, it’s not coming out in their interactions with other people and other kids,” Matari´c says later. “To have it come out with the robot is fantastic. It’s unlocking all this great potential that the kids have.”

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