Last week I went with some of the Google guys to the ASA (Autism Society of America) conference outside Chicago.
Why would Google have a presence there? Because a few years back, some of the SketchUp people in Boulder discovered that autistic kids take to SketchUp like fish to water. Apparently, the way SketchUp works mimics the way some autistic minds work, which has been confirmed to me over the years by a couple adult autistic customers I've communicated with. I have a 7-year old son on the spectrum, and I've seen him create great stuff in SketchUp, so this rings very true with me personally.
Google lauched Project Spectrum a few years ago, to give individuals with autism and their teachers and parents some information about the SketchUp-autism link, and to show some of the fanstastic models created by some autistic kids. Some of these kids aren't very verbal, and would have trouble expressing themselves orally or in writing, but are able to express their creativity visually, with SketchUp. You can read more about this in a document for educators and parents, which also includes some suggested SketchUp projects.
The reason Google had me participate in the conference is so that I can add many more projects to this document, complete with step-by-step instructions and suggested methods of interactions. For example, say a child has anxiety about going to the dentist. A teacher or parent can model the dentist's office, complete with a receptionist, waiting room, dental chair, sinks, etc, and can "walk through" the office visit the day before the actual appointment, and discuss what the child will see in each room. Another example would be a group project, in which two or three kids need to divide and assign design tasks by way of verbal discussion. After each child peforms his or her task (one portion of a larger SketchUp model), the group comes back together to integrate everyone's models into the overall model.
I'll be working on these projects with Dr. John Guercio from the Judevine Center for Autism. John has been using SketchUp with autistic children, in collaboration with local architects. He is a huge fan of what SketchUp can do, and we're both very excited to work on this amazing project!
I have compiled a great "to-do" list for projects. But for any special-needs educators / parents out there, if you have ideas or suggestions for projects, please get in touch. Thanks!
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