As science make strides in understanding where autism begins (research released last week as part of Autism Awareness Month points to brain changes in the womb), these fathers of autistic children are contributing with their own laudable efforts, from designing anxiety-mitigating vests that “hug”, to building companies aimed at reducing the 90% unemployment rate among autistic adults to a special version of the popular game Minecraft for kids on the spectrum.
1. Thorkil Sonne | Specialisterne
Encouraged by his autistic son’s intense focus and meticulous execution, Sonne started Specialisterne — Danish for “the specialists” — in 2003 to help autistic workers skilled in fields like data entry and software testing gain competitive advantage from their unique mindsets. Specialisterne now contracts its workers to tech companies such as SAP and hopes to someday provide meaningful jobs to one million people.
2. Stuart Duncan | Autcraft
According to Duncan, who is autistic and also has an autistic son, the sandbox game Minecraft has proven incredibly beneficial for those with his condition. The catch: social game play presents a serious challenge when, well, you’re socially challenged. So Duncan created Autcraft, an invitation-only Minecraft server for people on the spectrum and their families. Unlike the rather merciless public version, Autcraft provides a safe environment: no swearing, bullying, stealing, or “griefing”, plus protection from planetary destruction by something called “WorldGuard”.
3. Raffi Rembrand | BioHug Vest
Israeli engineer Rembrand developed the BioHug Vest to help calm people with autism, his own son included. Powered by a small battery, its inflatable air cells deliver firm but gentle pressure controlled by the user. Rembrand likens the effect to a hug that triggers a calming response via the body’s neural system — considering how many of the rest of us need the same on a daily basis, this thing might find dedicated consumers on every spectrum.
4. Ian Jones | Visual Reading
Jones got the idea for his iPad app, Visual Reading, while sharing a bedtime story with his autistic daughter. The words were like Japanese to her, but she “was more able to follow the story when there was a concrete association between the words and a related image.” His solution allows parents to provide that association by building a storyboard with familiar photos and videos, then assigning them to words.
5. Gary Moore & Dan Selec | nonParelli Institute
Moore and Selec, both fathers of children on the spectrum, are the co-founders of the nonPareil Institute, a Plano, Texas-based non-profit that’s a hybrid training program and software company for young adults with autism. Since 2010, nonPareil has grown to include more than 130 “crew members” and released about 10 apps. According to Selec in an interview with CNN: “We want to be the Apple of autism.”