July 9th, 2013
12:01 PM ET

Turning people on the Autism spectrum into tech innovators

Editors Note: Dan Selec is the founder and CEO of the nonPareil Institute – a hybrid school and software company in Plano, Texas that teaches adults on the autism spectrum to write and develop apps, video games and iBooks. Watch his full profile this Saturday at 2:30p ET on “The Next List”.

By Kristyn Martin, CNN

Dan Selec has a revolutionary idea: teach adults on the autism spectrum how to code so they can create apps and video games and make a living in the tech industry.

“If you want to know what terror is, find out that your child has a disability,” said Selec.  “As a parent we’re all asking the same question: what happens after we’re gone?”

Selec, who has a son on the autism spectrum, wanted to find the answer to that question. “I wanted Caleb to have a chance to live a fulfilled life, not just a life,” said Selec. “He loves technology … it turns out there’s a whole population of this group where, this is their core strength. They’re digital natives.”

Selec, along with his partner Gary Moore, founded the nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas. NonPareil is a hybrid school-meets-startup tech company. There, he teaches around 120 adults on the spectrum everything they need to know to create apps, video games and iBooks.

“For me, and I think a lot of students, we never expected to make video games,” said Jeremy Gage Farris, a student at nonPareil. “They might be lucky enough to just get a janitor’s job like I had for a few years. And just going from that to this is just a miracle for a large group of people like us.”

While the exact unemployment rate for adults on the autism spectrum is unknown, studies point to it being very low, according to The University of Missouri.

“It’s very limited in the number of job opportunities they have, the pay is very poor if they get paid at all,” said Jim Connell with the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. “The nonPareil model is very viable for a specific portion of the population.”

Selec wrote and designed software specific to the needs to adults on the autism spectrum to streamline their learning process. It teaches them everything they need to be competitive in the software industry.  “When you have gone through all the training and all of the courses you begin to get assignments and campaigns," said Selec. "And campaigns are product that is going to market.”

The nonPareil Institute already has several video games and apps available for purchase on iTunes and on most mobile platform stores. “That’s our vision, to be an innovation factory for approaching the market place and giving our crew sustainable revenue for the future,” said Selec.

Moore says the school's long-term goal for people on the Autism spectrum is more ambitious.

“We want to provide a campus community where they can train, they can work and they can also live,” said Moore. “Just like anybody else, they’re looking for purpose in life… and unfortunately there just are not many places that will give them that opportunity.”

“We want to answer this for every family across the U.S. and maybe even the world,” says Selec.

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Filed under: The Next List • Video
Tech to detect when a driver is dozing off
July 9th, 2013
08:58 AM ET

Tech to detect when a driver is dozing off

By Heather Kelly, CNN

While Google, universities and car companies work on perfecting self-driving vehicles, flawed and sometimes sleepy human drivers still fill our roads.

But new technology could help detect when those drivers start to feel tired and possibly prevent dangerous accidents. A research project at the University of Leicester has combined eye-tracking and brain monitoring to calculate when a driver's alertness starts to wane.

Researchers have used the two tracking technologies on their own before, but Dr. Matias Ison, who led this project, said they've found a new way to combine them for more accurate information about a person's state of mind.

"There are a variety of behaviors that are related to sleepiness and distractions," said Dr. Ison. "Some of them, such as blinking more frequently, changing our eye movements’ pattern, or not fixating on the road ahead are well suited to be detected with an eye tracker. However, brain activity changes during sleepiness and low cognitive alertness state can only be detected with an EEG."

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Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech • The Next List