Canadian Olympic rowing legend Silken Laumann knows all too well the benefits of technology and how they can help the lives of children with autism.
Her stepdaughter, Kilee, 21, has autism and struggles to make eye contact and communicate.
“The most common misconception with people on the spectrum is that they can’t connect with others in a meaningful way. I didn’t always understand that she was more like me than she was unlike me,” Laumann says.
“I think when I finally got that insight that she’s like the other kids; she wants to be loved, valued, feel useful. She knows when we’re angry, and just because she can’t say it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true for her.”
Laumann is part of a campaign for Samsung Look at Me, an app that helps children living with autism to improve eye contact and interpret facial expressions.
One of the tasks Kilee struggle with is making eye contact and reading social cues.
“Imagine you’re always being overstimulated and you want to retreat inwards which is what happens with a lot of kids with autism but one of the important social nuances in our world is to look the person. Part of what the Look at Me app assists kids in learning at another person in the eye,” Laumann says.
Alongside Autism Speaks Canada, Samsung has provided Canadian families living with autism with thousands of Samsung tablets pre-loaded with the app, hoping it can be a helpful tool for families and their children.
“This app is progressive, so it intelligently sees where the child is looking and gives them badges when they actually look at the face in the app. We’re also teaching our child to say hello and look at the person. For 15 minutes, they can practice this skill.”
One in 68 kids live with autism, according to Autism Speaks Canada. The average family cost is a minimum $60,000 a year for tutors and behavioural therapy.
Laumann says that the challenges families living with autism face are extensive, especially the first five years when some of the behaviours and frustrations are so great, and the journey of discovering what the best school environment is for your child.
“Dealing with the isolation and heartbreak of your child who has challenges with making friends, the misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist in our communities about children with special needs, and the economic hardships are hugely real,” she says.
Laumann has four children ranging in ages 17 to 21 with husband Patch, and she came into their lives when they were in their challenging tween years.
“The children have had to learn the difference between equal and fair; things aren’t equal in our house. Kilee takes up more of our time and energy than any of our other kids, but it’s fair in that we recognize each child’s needs and try to the best of our ability in our perfectly imperfect ways to meet our kids’ needs.”
Canadians are invited to visit Samsung.com/thelovespectrum and AutismSpeaks.ca from October 3rd to November 3rd, 2017, to apply to receive one of the 500 Samsung tablets pre-loaded with the Look at Me app.