This weekend I bought a Roku, a video streaming device that connects your television to the internet. Cool item. Despite the fact that I am an online guide for About.com, I am not really an early adopter. I like to wait for the prices to come down.
I recently picked up a conversation I started in July some folks I met at the Autism Society of America national conference in San Diego. They were launching an online streaming television service that would provide information and resources to families and professionals supporting and improving the lives of people with autism spectrum disorders. My curiosity was peaked, since I know that some of my families don't have access to the best or most useful information. I viewed the Vimeo videos they sent me, but I wanted to find out how to stream video. We have a Netflix account that is mostly used by my adult son to stream movies on his lap top. My computer usually sits on a special little table (thanks, IKEA) so I can watch television and work at the same time. When we found out how inexpensive a Roku device is, we decided to get one for Netflix and check out the Autism Channel at the same time.
Easily and Freely Accessible
I could see the content online with the clips the Autism Channel sent me, but I was curious about access and ease of getting the service online. That was my first reason to get the Roku: Could I recommend the service to my readers who might, like me, be a little techno-phobic?I can, and I will. I picked up my Roku at Walmart for $58. Unfortunately I also needed to pick up an HDMI cable, because the DVD player was taking up the other pluggy things (I told you I wasn't all that tech savvy.) Still, attaching the Roku to our flat screen was pretty easy. Once I found the source button on the remote I quickly located the Roku. Once it was loaded and connected to my wifi (the device walked me through the installation. I did have to run upstairs to my wife's desk to get the wifi password.) I searched the channel store and found the Autism Channel. A couple clicks, and I was a subscriber.
The best news: it's free! I didn't ask whether it was a paid service or not, but was surprised to see that their business model involves charging advertisers by the number of viewers their advertising reaches. So, for those of us who just want some more information about treatments, resources or just a laugh (The Rocket Show) it's free!! It's probably also a smart move: if I had a child on the spectrum, this would be an easy way to get information and learn about resources and strategies for enriching the lives of my child: and advertisers who were interested in providing me services would know just where to find me!
An Expanding Platform for Services and Experts
It was explained to me that the Autism Channel intends to add streaming services in an intentional and strategic manner, as they add other devices beside the Roku. Good idea, I think. It also gives them time to add viewers over time, who should find more and more video that will be helpful to the viewers as they support their children's success.
It will hopefully also expand the number and quality of offerings to not only include Florida based providers, but also experts and experienced service providers from all over the country.
I hope it will also broaden the offerings to offer some programming for children on the spectrum. Certainly, some social skills programming might be a nice break from Sponge Bob.
Putting Their Money Where their Mouths Are
I was impressed by the fact that they have chosen to use a young man, Dan Heinlein, to anchor an interview program they call "I am Autistic." Of course, being a special educator I wondered about the whole "people first" thing. Shouldn't it be "I am someone with autism?" Ah well . . .
At first, as a teacher of students with autism, all I wanted to do was start Dan on a social skills program. You can tell from Dan's affect that he really is on the spectrum. I found he really grows on you. He has that kind of whacky off center self deprecating manner that I find so winning in young adults with Asperger's Syndrome.
The other "anchor" is Dr. Judy Aronson Ramos, the Medical Director of a clinic which specializes in early intervention for children on the spectrum. In an interview with an Occupational Therapist she reveals that she is the parent of a child with autism. Certainly it explains her interest, but she has a very objective yet well informed way of interviewing her guests. I expect that Dr. Aronson-Ramos will be the one who introduces the most constructive treatment and educational information to help parents and practitioners make informed decisions about how best to support their children succeed in academic and social situations.
Yes, yes, yes! At least check it out when you get a streaming device (though I would recommend that, too. I look forward to all the great BBC programs available on Netflix.) I believe that the Autism Channel has incredible potential to help and network families, educators and service providers and build collaboration and success for "our" kids. Recommend it to your parents -- be sure you have access to the channel if you do, so you can explain or respond to anything they have seen there.
My Wish List
This is a new service, and in my conversations with the folks at the Autism Channel, they are trying to roll out the service and the content slowly and steadily, with an eye to providing good quality. A wise move. My rating of three stars out of five is related to the potential rather than the actual content. What I have seen is of good quality, but I have some things I hope they will pursue:
- Organization by topic. Right now the channel is organized by show. I'd like to see articles about diet clustered, including the cooking shows with recipes from Chef Jana. I'd like the interviews by Dr. Judy and by Dan Heinlein that focus on transition and post high school support services in one place.
- Talk to experts from all over the country.
- The interviewees that the channel found did a nice job of making clear and balanced presentations on their areas of expertise, but I hope the channel will talk to Dr. Ron Leaf in California (the Autism Partnership) and for sure the people doing research at Kennedy Krieger, a pediatric psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, Maryland that is doing groundbreaking work both in therapy and research into autism.
- Provide some streaming content for young adolescents and teens on social skills. How about a streaming "Teen Club" that addresses skills like entering a conversation, or letting a girl know you like her?
- Add some panel discussions with experts on two sides of an issue, like including sensory integration in educational programming, or the importance of diet in helping students with Autism succeed. These are hardly "settled issues" in educational circles, but should be thoughtfully addressed.
I really, really want to give the Autism Channel 5 stars. I hope they live up to their potential, and that I will be back in a year or two with those two additional stars!