TeachLivE Part 2
A while ago I wrote about how UCF has an amazing program called TeachLivE. It is a computer generated classroom complete with avatar students to help train teachers without putting any human students at risk. This incredible invention took a strange and amazing turn when a group of autistic students went for a visit. http://autismmovesout.org/autism-teachlive-is-for-lovers/ CJ was lucky enough to be one of the students. After our incredible experience, I thought that was the end of our story. It wasn’t. TeachLivE was about to come home. At least to MY HOME!
I am contacted by the TeachLivE people. How would I feel about putting TeachLivE in my house? Seriously? Is it possible? How soon can you do it? What do I need to do? How much will this cost? Does my insurance cover it?
Turns out it is free…..but…there are lots of logistics. I mean LOTS! There is paperwork, funding and details of who is doing what, when and where. We are going to part of a study or multiple studies. I still not sure how many people or how many studies are involved even now. They want to get some idea of how TeachLivE can impact people with special needs. What changes can they make? How much can it help? Is it all positive or just too much? OH….The Pressure!!!!
It is about to begin. A wonderful young PhD student comes out to set everything up and show me what to do. OK. Ready for the truck. How big is it? Do we need movers? My house is really not very big. Do you need my TV or are you bringing your own screen? I know computers are much smaller now. No mainframes. No rooms full of equipment, but this is serious stuff. She comes in with a small computer bag. It is a laptop. A laptop? I am impressed and a little disappointed. I was actually worried about where on earth I would put it and keep it safe.
So, we turn it on and the avatars pop up. IN MY HOUSE! It was a surreal experience. I was a little overwhelmed. We have entered a whole new world. I’m sure that Star Trek is somehow involved. Maybe it is Star Wars with holograms. Anyway, it is amazing. It all took my breath away a little. They will be taping everything. I make them promise not to tape me! I realize that as I am talking to the avatars, I start to feel self conscious about my appearance. I’m not wearing much makeup. I haven’t really done my hair. What about my outfit? Talk about suspension of reality. I am actually worrying about what the avatars think about me. I move everything so that they can’t see the pile of stuff I have stashed in the same room thinking no one will see it. I didn’t count on the avatars coming in. I feel the need to shut down the computer before changing or doing anything private.
I tell CJ that the avatars are coming. I’m not sure how to explain it or how much detail to go into. CJ loves the avatars, but how will he feel about them being in his home. Will he like it? Will he respond the same way? Better? Worse? Is he going to think that all his invitations to “come over to his house”, “play basketball” or even go out on a date, have finally been accepted. My palms are sweating. I was on edge. This HAS to go well. What happens if it doesn’t? Will they just stop if he doesn’t cooperate? My performance anxiety greater than almost any I have ever experienced. It’s time. I log on. They are there. I go to get CJ. CJ refuses to go in. He refuses to cooperate. Great. Now that everyone has gone to all this trouble and expense, he is not going to participate. The great battle ensues and ends with him slamming the door in my face, yelling not so nice things at me. He sits down at the computer, puts on the headphones and says, “Hi guys”. He then proceeds to have a conversation with the avatars and enjoys himself.
The TeachLivE folks inform me that he is already research gold. Me…..??? Gold? You call THAT gold? You should hang out around here more often when he is refusing to do things. We could all get rich. They actually want to see what he likes, dislikes and how much he is willing to cooperate…or not. I am not to force anything. We work out a system where he can “earn” something. He gets to pick a “treat”, usually involving food if he cooperates. I now stock up on all possible rewards. I NEED this to go well. (after all, isn’t it really about me?)
Continues….Now, with food on the line, he’s motivated. He starts to get more excited on the days he is going to talk to them. He starts deciding ahead of time what he may want to tell them. He starts engaging with each and every avatar before leaving the room. What??? He is usually trying to avoid conversations. He is usually trying to engage with as few people as possible. He will usually stick to one or two VERY safe people. Now he is the one engaging with them. He starts to ask questions. He remembers information from prior conversations and follows up with the specific avatar.
He asks “Where are you going next year? Are you going to college?” He asks about the one avatar’s grandmother that they had discussed in a prior conversation. WHAT??!!?? CJ has always had the memory of an elephant, but only to harass you about something you forgot or your worst parenting moment. He has never been one to ask about what is going on with you. He has never been one to ask about your day, your weekend, your plans. His new thing now is to ask everyone he sees, “How was your weekend?”. The best part of this is that it can be any day of the week. It is appropriate so people don’t react negatively and generally answer. It is funny if it happens on the wrong day of the week, like a Friday. He usually gets a slightly strange look, but he almost aways gets an answer.
All the sessions are being recorded, because the researchers can’t even begin to count or study all the things that are happening. There are now 8-10 PhD candidates working with CJ for portions of their dissertations.
I am thrilled. They are thrilled. Best of all, CJ is so happy. I can’t believe all of this and the changes it is making in my son.
More to come….Good thing UCF and TeachLivE have CJ. Not sure they would be able to go forward without him. One thing I know is that we don’t want them to! They might think this is research gold, but for us and, especially for CJ, it’s priceless.