Saturday, September 18, 2010

Google Scribe for special needs writing?

I'm typing this post with helpful from Google Scribe. As I type I get a popup list that lets me type a number or hit enter to autocomplete my sentences. It even suggests phrases based on what I type. I used to use something like this on my old Palm III; it was helpful there but it's somewhat distracting when I have a keyboard.

Lee Matthews has a good description ....
Google Scribe bookmarklet puts powerful autocomplete anywhere you enter text on the Web

... Ever wish you could leverage the power of Google Suggest anywhere?...

Those users might want to check out Google Scribe, a slick new Labs offering that brings Google's suggestion magic to any text entry field on the Web. Just visit the Scribe page and drag the bookmarklet onto your bookmarks bar, head on over to your favorite social site like Facebook or Twitter, and give it a go!

Once you click your bookmarklet, you'll see an activation notice appear. As you type, Scribe will display a drop-down list of suggestions, just like Google's search box does. You can press Enter to apply the first suggestion or 1-0 to pick any option in the list (or use your mouse if you prefer). Google Scribe also offers sorting options, and you can set it to "always on" or "on demand" mode...
For my test I installed the Google Chrome scribe extension, but I believe the bookmarklet will work with Safari. You hit Enter to accept the top suggestion with a space, a number to choose another, Esc to hide suggestions and tab to choose without a space.

I think it will work even if you're not logged into Google, though I expect a future version will learn from the words someone uses.

This technology is obviously helpful when doing small device text entry, but for a special needs writer with limited spelling skills it may be very interesting at all times. I'm going to try it with my son the next time he's working (under intense direct supervision!) on his Facebook page.

Lessons from two family bicycle outings

We did two family bike outings [1] recently. One was a flop. The other was a great success.

We have few pictures of the flop, lots of pictures of the success. The children watch the pictures on various screens. That's how we create (false) memories of perfect childhood.
"What is the secret to happiness, Oh Exalted One?" said the student.
"Editing." said the master.
The fiasco came first. Actually, it wasn't a fiasco -- but only because we bailed.
"What is the first lesson of special needs adventures, Oh Great One? said the student. 
"Know when to fold 'em" said the master. 
We should have known better. Actually, we did know better. I just forgot. I chose a new route we'd never explored. I didn't measure distances carefully. I didn't adjust when the weather turned hot and humid. I wasn't sure of the exact route, so we I revealed anxiety inducing uncertainty early (the captain must always know). I didn't outline the rules well enough, and I didn't specify queuing order.

Inevitably we had meltdowns. Mercifully the wisest one declared it was time to bail, even though I wanted to push on. We got back to the car, drove for ice cream, didn't have a bad day overall. Hours of preparation, 25 minutes of riding, but it could have been a lot worse.

When we did the postmortem it we knew we were off our game. Time to do better. We'd registered for the big St Paul Classic bicycle tour, so we knew another chance was coming. This time we remembered our lessons.

We studied the route in detail, using direct surveillance and satellite images and maps. We tracked the forecast. One week before the ride, in good conditions, we took the kids for our target distance on a representative stretch. We planned a van drop off point, so the kids would ride the target 6.5 miles without a turnaround. I took son #1 from our house to the start 1 day prior, using a route I'd researched and memorized and printed for him. We took all the kids for a car tour of the entire route -- so that two of them would know the full route was too long.

We had snacks. We had liquids. We had firm queue rules - son #1 and son #2 to be separated by mother #1. Son #1 had a phone in a saddle bag. Everything was ready in the garage.

On the day of the ride we were dynamic -- adjusting departure to suit son #2 morning malaise. We adapted and returned to the plan.

It was fantastic. Every child met their goal tired and happy. Son #1 did the 17.5 mile loop - even I got some exercise when I sprinted from the van group to catch him. (He could go ahead because he's oddly cautious and he's a wizard with  his iPhone -- not something that fits his measured IQ).

Complete victory. Based, of course, on lessons from a fiasco.

Some people have to spend a fortune to climb Mt. Everest to test themselves and rise to great challenge. We only have to register for a bike ride. An unexpected advantage of the special life.

[1] Teaching two kids on the spectrum to ride bikes was one of the substantial achievements of my life.

Rethinking neuropsychiatric diagnoses

I started bemoaning the classification (aka ontology, nosology) of neuropsychiatric disorders about 8 years ago. I'm not the only one. One of the things I liked about Greene's Explosive Child book is that he is clearly unimpressed with the DSM IV nosology.

We're due for another DSM edition, but I doubt that will be any better.

The good news is that in the last 8 years it's become clear to every researcher that all of the common neurospychiatric conditions, from "ADHD" to "ODD" to "Autism" to "Aspergers" to "Bipolar disorder" to "Schizophrenia" are very rough categorizations of thousands of different "phenotypes" (where a phenotype is the end-result of the interaction between genes and environment) that are themselves dynamic over the lifetime of the brain. (Even after adolescence, we see major changes in schizophrenic symptoms between 20 and 50.)

Over the last 3 years we've seen that many different combinations of diverse gene variants, combinations, "malfunctions" and prenatal genetic express modification can produce superficially similar clinical presentations that we squeeze into the garbage bins of "mental retardation", schizophrenia, and "autism spectrum disorder". Most surprisingly, many brains with extraordinary genetic disorders appear normal.

This classification problem isn't simply an annoyance for researchers and industrial ontologists. It has important legal, educational, financial and, yes, clinical implications. The legal, educational and financial implications are large but outside the scope of this post. Suffice to say there is a reason that the diagnosis of "autism" has exploded while the diagnosis of "mental retardation/DCD" has shrunk (clinically speaking both diagnoses are about equally useless).

The clinical implications are what matter to most of us. Autism is a fine diagnosis for getting hugely beneficial school and family services, but if it leads to pure therapeutic choices or misguided interventions then it's harmful. If we lump too many conditions into one bucket, we risk choosing the wrong interventions because they don't match the bucket.

I'm hopeful that over the next decade we'll see a revolution in thinking about neuropsychiatric disorders, and the evolution and diversity of mind. We'll become more empirical about what works and what doesn't, and recognize that the brain at 8, 14, 17, 20, 30 and 40 may be very different. We'll always need classifications, but they may be more akin to "Ritalin responsive" than to "ADHD".

Progress has been slow, but it's coming.