The highest-grossing movie of 1988 was a comedy-drama called Rain Man. It grossed US$354.8 million from a budget of just US$25 million. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise it was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 4, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Hoffman.
For many, this was their first introduction to a mental health disorder called Autism.
The Rain Man Influence
Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man is an Autistic Savant. Savant syndrome is a rare condition in which someone with significant mental disabilities demonstrates certain abilities far above average. The skills that savants excel at are generally related to memory, including rapid calculation, artistic ability, map making, or musical ability.
Less than 1 in 10 people with Autism are savants and most are not as extreme as those demonstrated in Hoffman’s performance.
Since the movie’s release, rates of prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), rose dramatically, now one in 59 children in the US have ASD.
Signs of Autism in Children
Children with Autism often display some of the following behaviors:
- not responding to their name
- avoiding eye contact
- not smiling when you smile at them
- getting very upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell, or sound
- repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers, or rocking their body
- not talking as much as other children
- repeating the same phrases
Common characteristics shared by all people on the autistic spectrum include deficits in communication and social interaction, and a limited range of interests. They exhibit repetitive patterns of behaviour and can become unsettled if routines are disturbed.
This can lead to difficult behavior, especially in those with undiagnosed Autism, and others, including their parents, mistake their actions for bad behavior that seems almost impossible to change.
Parents of Autistic children do find parenting challenging. Since the release of Rain Man, Autism is far more widely recognised and diagnosed. Those with Autism have also gained access to a far greater understanding of their issues and treatments to help them. Therapies like Action Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy are making life easier for those with Autism and their families
The hangover from the Rain Man movie is the belief that ALL those with Autism are automatically gifted at maths, science, and computing. That simply is not true.
How Assistive Technology Can Benefit Those with Autism
Technology is everywhere, and all children need to become confident and comfortable with technology. For those on the autistic spectrum, technological benefits can be particularly beneficial.
Computers enable children to learn new skills in an engaging and accessible way. They are easily motivated to use them and skills-based activities on a computer are good for communication.
Computers enable a child to become an expert in something that they have a specific interest in. This develops expertise and independence. Children learn to make their own choices and dictate the direction of their learning and play.
Technology can be used to regulate moods and improve well-being, from apps that are designed to alleviate anxiety to simply watching entertaining YouTube videos.
Apps and software enable children to make more contact with their peers (and teachers), and the common interest in computing can form strong relationships.
The software offers control without surprises
One of the key benefits of software development for those with autism is that it provides a controlled environment without surprises. In general, this is something that will be a good fit for many autistic people.
All autistic children may not be geniuses; however, autism should not prevent them from leading successful and happy lives. In terms of technology, it is about finding the software and apps that allow the autistic child to develop and grow organically, bringing the best out of the child.