Sunday, June 29, 2014

Smart home, DropCam, and special needs

Google, the surveillance company, recently acquired Nest which has now acquired DropCam.

As a currently independent adult I have a deep suspicion of where Google is taking us. As the parent of soon-to-be-adult children with special needs, however, Google subsidized surveillance technology is good news. I think (hope) that surveillance and communications technology will allow our adult children to function more effectively in an extremely challenging environment.

In a few months, once the acquisition has settled a bit, I’ll evaluate a DropCam product.

(I’d had hopes that Apple would do some good things in this space, but I’m unimpressed with Apple’s overall direction.)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Autistic "swingers" should consider inline skating

I touched on inline skating in a previous post about exercise for the autistic teen, but after a recent skate with #2 I think it deserves a post of its own. To explain why, I’m going to start with a novel way to divide up the “autism” world.

There are lots of ways to name and classify variant minds, and most of them are headed for the trash heap. In that context I think we’re free to name our own. So today I’m going to divide the world of non-adaptive [1] variant minds into swingers and unswingers.

Swingers are the autism-spectrum teens and adults who love to swing. They are the teens who tear apart the Rainbow play sets built for children [2]. Unswingers may share the legally useful diagnosis of “autism”, but they have no interest in rhythmic motion.

Swinger and unswinger autism isn’t a typical diagnostic divide, but I suspect it’s a useful division — with implications for health and behavior. We have kids on both sides of that divide — one swinger and one unswinger.

Which brings me back to inline skating. #1, the unswinger, has no interesting in inline skating outdoors. He can’t explain his feelings verbally, but my guess is he considers it dangerous and uninteresting.

On the other hand #2 is a swinger, and inline skating is one of the few outdoor activities he clearly enjoys. Cross-country (nordic) skiing is another one. In both cases, but especially with inline skating, there’s a rhythmic motion of core muscles and a sensation of falling and rising, floating and flying. In other words, a swinging sensation.

#2 has the typical motor coordination problems of Asperger’s syndrome, but he’s a strong swinger — and an increasingly strong inline skater. His technique is still weak, but over many years it’s slowly getting better. More significantly, he’s comfortable over urban streets and sidewalks — terrain that defeats many stronger inline skaters [3]. He’s generally not tolerant of scrapes and falls, but he shrugs them off when skating [4].

I don’t know of any other summer activity that has the rhythmic rise and fall of the swing. So for swinger-positive teens, and with recognition that anything out of the basement is risky, I recommend a look at inline skating. With, it should not need to be mentioned, wrist guards and a very good helmet that should be replaced every 3-5 years and with ANY head impact. [5]

[1] Non-adaptive, meaning not competitive in our current environment, an environment that requires a high degree of emotional control, cognitive flexibility, and social interaction. In this environment it’s not only “autistic” minds that are disadvantaged.

[2] I’m working on reinforcing the existing structure so it will withstand #2’s adult wait and swinging style.

[3] It’s a bit surprising how many club skaters, who can be very fast on smooth trails, do poorly on urban landscapes. 

[4] There’s a reason that inline skating is not as popular as it was when boomers were younger. It’s a contact sport. I’m a strong inline skater, and every few years I find a way to fall.

[5] I wear a helmet when bicycling, but I recognize there are valid arguments that for some people, in some conditions, the benefit of a bicycle helmet is less than I would have thought. With inline skating I am as certain as death and taxes that a helmet is beneficial and wrist guards are very helpful. With any non-trivial impact the helmet needs to be replaced — like air bags helmets are single use devices. They should also be discarded after 3-5 years even when pristine — they compressive material degrades with time and sunlight.