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MagnusCards™ – The life skills mobile app for people with autism and other special needs

My entire life is dedicated to helping autistics to feel safe, empowered and free to be themselves. To that end, I’m always reading and researching and looking for the newest programs and tools that can help. I am autistic as is my oldest son Cameron so this is near and dear to my heart.

Recently Colgate reached out to me, asking if I’d be interested in taking a look at something new that they’re involved in.

Colgate partnered with MagnusCards™, an innovative mobile app that empowers people living with cognitive special needs, such as autism, to independently manage daily skills such as tooth brushing.

So, before you continue, be aware that this is indeed a paid, sponsored post by the good folks at Colgate but also to be aware that there is no obligation on my part to be anything but honest. In fact, that’s exactly what they’ve asked of me… to review the product and “post honest and truthful opinions.” So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

What is the MagnusCards™ app?

This is how their website describes it: “MagnusCards are digital how-to guides for everyday living.” That’s an oversimplification. This app is really a visual and audio, step by step guide on how to do virtually any routine task from household chores, travel and personal care such as brushing your teeth. There are currently 12 categories such as food, safety and more, each contains decks of cards. Each card being an individual step in completing the routine.

But the app goes even further.

MagnusCards™ offers rewards for completing those tasks and then ranks you in comparison to others that use the app. The more you use the app, the higher you rank.

The biggest feature though, in my opinion, is that there are pre-made decks that you can download to get started with, such as several decks from Colgate. There is in fact more pre-made decks now than there was when I first downloaded the app a week ago, so I’m sure there will be even more added as time goes on.

There is also the ability to create your own decks, including pictures and audio. This means that there’s virtually no limit to the ways in which you can use this app.

Using Colgate’s MagnusCards™

Checking out MagnusCards for the first time

Cameron (my son, 12 years old with autism) and I looked through the app a little bit together. We looked through some of the preset tasks and headed into the Care section. We hit the “Download More Cards” button and found all of the decks from Colgate. Cameron looked at me said “aww… do I have to do this?” Kids! Am I right?

He got the “Colgate – Brushing Your Teeth” and “Colgate – Using Mouthwash” decks and looked through them a bit with me on the couch. I said “Want to give them a try?” and he said “Ok.

Following the steps

My son went into the bathroom, set the phone up against the back of the sink, under our dirty mirror, loaded up the Colgate – Brushing Your Teeth deck and followed the cards. It was so simple. It was as if he had done it a thousand times before.

You know what?? It worked!

I mean, he’s always brushed his teeth when I ask him to but he’s never liked it and more so, would rush through it. I swear some days he’d walk into the bathroom and right back out again claiming he’s done brushing. But using this app, following the cards step by step, he did a thorough job. I’m sure it will go faster over time as he learns the cards but still, he’ll do a much better job than without.

He completed all the steps and pressed on the “I’m Finished All The Steps!” button and was pleasantly surprised to find that he earned points for a task well done.

Our Honest Opinion

After Cameron finished brushing his teeth and earning his points, I asked him what his honest opinion of the app was. He sort of shrugged his shoulders, as kids will do, and said “It’s ok, I guess.” Kids! I’m right. I know I’m right.

Pressing further, I asked if he thought this helps him and if he thinks it would help other children. He said that it definitely does make him brush better. Having the cards to follow really made him do a better job than when he does it on his own.

I’m in total agreement with him.

Thorough brushing

He did have one concern though. He said “I don’t know if it’ll help kids know when to brush.

Clever boy!

Yes, in my house I have alarms set up on our phones that tell us when to do certain tasks and that includes brushing our teeth. I give him full points for this and if there was one feature that I’d like to see in this app that isn’t there, it’s a reminder setting. Perhaps even if just one of the default tasks was exactly that… helping you to setup reminders to do daily tasks. That would be enough.

Aside from that though, this app really checks all the boxes. Doing banking, taking the bus, going shopping… all of that stuff is in there with pre-made decks.

The ability to make your own decks is incredible not just for tasks that you can’t find to download but also for that personal touch. Being your child, especially if they are autistic, no one would know how to explain things to them better than you.

I’ll be honest, I’ve seen other apps that do help autistic children with communication, and routines and more. In comparison, MagnusCards™, on the surface, seems quite simplistic, like there’s not really a lot to it. The more that Cameron and I used it though, the more that started to feel like an advantage rather than a disadvantage. This app does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it with surprising versatility when you really break it down. Being able to create your own decks quickly and easily is a very powerful tool. Having pre-made decks from some very big sources like Colgate is also a huge factor. None of those other apps I’ve reviewed have that.

The best part though is that it’s free. The decks are free. It’s a really tiny app. Takes up no space, uses practically zero battery power. And it’s very easy to use. So let’s say you do go ahead and try it and it doesn’t work for your family (and let’s face it, no one thing works for every single family), then you uninstall and try something else. Right? There’s no reason to not try it unless you already have a system that is working in which case, I don’t think anyone would fault you for sticking with it.

Colgate is sponsoring me on this and I have promised to share some of that with Cameron as he helped me review it. Regardless of that, I absolutely would and will recommend MagnusCards™ to people I know. I really think people should at least give it a try. Watching Cameron use it a few times now, I have to say that for as simple as it is, it works.

Check out the Colgate MagnusCards™ at http://colgate.magnuscards.com and let me know what you think!

Colgate MagnusCards™

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RIP Autism Blogs

I think 2016 is most notable for how many celebrities passed away. Not just celebrities but like, legendary celebrities that revolutionized what ever it was they did. There’s also the whole election thing, but what ever… moving on.

In the autism community, something else died. It faded away. Only, most people never really noticed. Autism blogs.

I was looking through the list of autism blogs that I have along the side bar of this very blog and noticed that not one of them has a post in 2016. Some stopped updating as far back as 2014. Most in 2015. In 2016… no signs of life. All vital signs… flat lined.

I’m not really one to talk, I’ll admit it. My last post was in April, this is very near the end of December now. So what’s the deal? Well, for me, I got busy. I started Autcraft and it literally exploded in popularity, not just within the autism community but also in the media and even with researchers.

What happened to autism blogs in general? Why did they fade away? Why have parents stopped writing?

Social Media

In the beginning social media drove traffic to our blogs. It was great. You start a fan page or a twitter account, post links there to your blog posts and people start flooding in. It was the easiest thing in the world. But social media evolved and the people did too. People didn’t want to go to social media just to go somewhere else. People wanted to read what you had to say right there, where they are, without having to go anywhere else. That’s basically what social media sites are designed to do… keep you there, not send you elsewhere. And it worked.

Autism bloggers found that they had unlimited space to write what they wanted right on Facebook, or Google+ or Medium… not so much Twitter. People commented there. They shared there. They liked there. And the more they did, the more other people saw it. None of that happened when the person went to a blog to interact with you.

So the writing moved. With it, so did the writing style because you couldn’t just post links within the posts anymore. You couldn’t just embed images or style things the way you wanted anymore. So “articles” became “posts” and “posts” became “status updates.”

People don’t have time to read a whole article anymore anyway so the shorter it was, the better. Which brings me to…

Time

As much as autism parents don’t have time to read long articles anymore, they also don’t have time to write them. It gets even worse when you write them and then go to other people’s blogs to read them too. Your whole day ends up being consumed with blogs when, as we autism parents know, there’s very little “free time” as it is.

So those autism bloggers who loaded up social media sites to see what friends and others are doing, they would just update their life there. Where those people are. There was no point in going to some other website, signing in, writing a post, proof reading, spell checking, styling, finding images and styling it all just to go back to their social media sites to share the link with people who don’t want to have to go there just to read it. You’re better off just skipping the fancy stuff and putting it right on your social media page. Less time for you and the reader that way.

Money

Social media is free. Well, sudo free. You get ads and stuff which pays for it but you personally do not have to pay anything for it. A blog on the other hand, you do. If you want a custom domain name, if you want a custom look and feel, if you want to do give-aways… chances are you have to pay for all that. There are ways around some of those things but it takes work… which also equates to value. Money.

On Facebook though, you don’t have any of that. You just type what you want to say, hit the button and you’re done. Hassle free. No domain, no files, no plugins, no themes… if time is money, then just putting your thoughts into a Facebook post instead of a blog is priceless.

The Future

I am a little sad that autism blogs don’t seem to be a thing any more. For some reason, it was just easier to find other autism parents that I could relate to when I would go from blog to blog with their shared links and read about their experiences and feel like I knew them a little bit. That’s tougher to do in social media when your only real interaction with someone is a shared comment on someone else’s thoughts on the latest television show. Also there’s the whole friend request or “follow” thing. I think most people feel a lot less awkward about just having readers than they do in having people be on a friend list.

Many autism parents do still try to help each other out though by sharing each other’s Facebook fan page updates or giving shout outs and things but it’s just not the same. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic.

The autism blog era may be mostly behind us but it’s not completely. There are still some autism blogs out there and some new ones starting up all the time. Plus, there are still people doing actual writing on the subject and about their families, they’re just harder to find now but they are out there.

Also, those people who do friend some other people they find on social media turn out to be very good friends, even meeting each other in real life after a while. That doesn’t normally happen with readers on a blog. So there’s that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… RIP Autism Blogs. You will be missed.

But there’s still lots of good stuff for us in 2017. We just have to adapt and make the best of what we have.

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The day ‘hackers’ told 6 year old autistic children that they should ‘kill yourself’

For those of you who don’t know me, I started Autcraft, a Minecraft server just for children (and adults) with autism where they can play the game safely, free from the bullying that they found on other servers. Up until April 6th, 2016, I had done a pretty good job of that. But first, let’s go back to 2013.

In June 2013, I started the server and told a few hundred people… 2 days later, I had 750 emails in my inbox. Word had spread like wildfire. Why? Because there were far more kids being bullied than I had realized.

About 3 weeks after launching the server, I got word from hackers and trolls that their fellow hackers and trolls were targeting the server. Three weeks. That’s all it took. And the server has been under constant attack ever since. I’ve never told anyone that until now.

In part of my job of keeping these children safe, I keep this information from them. It hurts to know that there are people in the world targeting them around the clock, around the year, simply because they exist… simply because they have autism, something they never chose for themselves, something they can’t possibly do anything about. In fact, I struggled for a little while in deciding whether or not to even write about this… but here I am.

2016-04-06_19.45.42_1460336

Click for full size

On April 6th, 2016, two people attempted to hack into the Autcraft server and failed.

What they did succeed in doing, however, was to hijack our IP address, effectively redirecting all the traffic from our server to a server of their own.

The children that signed on to play, some as young as 6 years old, signed on to their server instead of mine. Once there, they were encased in a bedrock box from which they could not leave and were told that they were rejects from society, degenerates and that they should kill themselves.

When I asked these guys why they’d do such a thing, they responded “it’s funny.

They told us that we’d never figure out what they had done or how to stop it and that they’d continue doing it unless we paid them $1000.

Less than an hour later, with the help of the incredible guys at EZP Hosting, we had regained control of our IP and moved the server to another location. The good news is that only a few of the children ever came into contact with these monsters. The bad news is that a few of the kids came into contact with these monsters.

Having failed that, they turned to a DDOS attack, attempting to make Autcraft unplayable for everyone because if they couldn’t tell the children to kill themselves directly, then they’d at least try to take everything away from them that they could.

This attack was quite massive in scale and was maintained for almost two weeks straight. Luckily, again, we were able to outsmart them and find ways to get around their attacks and the children played on, completely unaware that anything was even happening.

I wish I could say that these were the only people who’d do such a thing but they’re not… not by a long shot.

This is the reality for a child and even for an adult living with autism.

Monsters lurk in the shadows of the Internet, ashamed and afraid to show their face but all to willing to tell perfectly innocent little children that they are rejects and should kill themselves.

Now my hosting costs have gone up, having added in new anti-DDOS measures, more services, better protection. Every time these things happen, the amount of work and the amount of bills goes up, all in an effort just to play a game in safety, like everyone else takes for granted.

For the record, I got the guy’s home IP address and gave it to the police… they will do nothing.

I got the guy’s IP address and username and gave it to Mojang… they will do nothing.

We are left with no choice but to continue to hide away as many autistic children on my server as we can, where they’ll be safe… or at least, as safe as I can make it… and why?

Because the monsters are still out there and no one will do anything about it.

People still ask me why I created Autcraft. This is why.


If you’d like to contribute and support Autcraft, please become a Patron at https://www.patreon.com/autismfather?ty=h or donate directly at http://donate.autcraft.com

Thank you.

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A review of the HBO autism documentary: How To Dance In Ohio

How To Dance In Ohio

How To Dance In Ohio

So you’ve watched all the autism movies and documentaries and found that some were hard to watch, others you could relate to quite well and some were even enlightening but I can guarantee that you’ve never seen one as powerful as How To Dance In Ohio.

Synopsis

How To Dance In Ohio is a documentary by Alexandra Shiva that follows a group of young autistic adults as they prepare for their first formal dance. They must learn how to ask each other out, how to handle rejection, how to hold a conversation, how to dance and in some cases… share that first kiss. More specifically the film focuses in on 3 young woman ranging from 16 years old to 22 years old as they navigate family life, moving on from their family and having a job.

Release Date

October 26, 2015 on HBO

Review

You get a sense that this film is going in all the right directions as soon as the film starts when the first scene opens with actual autistic people talking to you and expressing to you how they feel. There are no actors, there is no narrator, there is no big production made about what we’re about to see. There is simply a young woman, with autism, in front of the camera, saying “We like to socialize, but it’s just, we don’t know how,” and from that moment, you know you are watching the right movie.

As the viewer, you get to sort of ride along with this group of autistic young adults over the course of 12 weeks as they prepare for what is quite literally, one of the scariest events possible… a formal dance. I know that most people would chuckle at that or think it’s silly because the average person tends to look forward to social functions like that. This film not only explains but shows you very clearly why it is as scary as it is for those many people with autism. While other films with actors and writers try to create the perfect situation or accurately portray what may happen, How To Dance In Ohio has only very real people in very real situations dealing with them as best they can.

The real strength that How To Dance In Ohio has is it’s ability to capture very real moments as they happen, as though there was no camera there at all. When you see these people cry, or behave in some awkward way or when they laugh, you feel how genuine that is. You suddenly realize what all those other autism films have been missing all along. The actors in autism movies have incredible talent and did great work in their respective films but no one can ever truly understand or convey what it’s like to be autistic quite like an actual autistic can.

It isn’t until you’re watching a documentary like How To Dance In Ohio that it hits you; you will never know what it’s like to be autistic without talking to an autistic.

I fear that the only downfall for this film and any film or book that does such a great job of depicting the struggles (and triumphs) of autism is that those who do not have autism directly affecting their lives won’t give it a chance until they have to. How To Dance In Ohio is such a great documentary but it’s also a very powerful tool for autism awareness, showing people what autism is really like in a way that not many other films have been able to. In one scene, Marideth, a 16 year old young lady with autism is talking with her family at the dinner table and all seems great until she just gets up and walks away. She’s still a part of the conversation and everyone is still happy but she’s just up and gone. To the average person, that would seem odd or maybe even rude. But to an autistic or someone close to someone with autism, we totally understand that!

There are so many key moments in How To Dance In Ohio where I feel that most people wouldn’t even notice but as an adult with autism myself as well as the parent of a child with autism, I find myself feeling this very strong bond between myself and those on the screen in those moments. They’re so tiny and likely insignificant to anyone else but I just know that those already within the autism community are going to pick up on them in the biggest way and go back and watch them again because they touch them so deeply. Powerful moments likes these can’t be scripted nor prepared for, they are real moments that can only happen spontaneously from someone that is living in that moment and Alexandra Shiva captures them so perfectly in How To Dance In Ohio.

As I watched, I messaged friends that are also parents of children with autism, telling them that this is going to be a hard film for some people to watch. I relayed some of the things that the autistics within the film would say, such as “Cartoons don’t judge you like people do,” and we all felt our hearts sink together. We know that feeling.

As hard as How To Dance In Ohio is though, it’s also incredibly wonderful to watch with so many moments of laughter, triumph and of course, tears. None of it scripted, none of it prepared for or anticipated.

If I could make every person on Earth who has no prior experience with autism sit down and watch any one movie to understand what my own life with autism has been like, How To Dance In Ohio would be that film.

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The effect that blaming autism on vaccines has on actual autistic children

Trump calls autism an epidemic as the result of vaccines

Trump calls autism an epidemic as the result of vaccines

So now we’re back to the whole anti-vaccine thing thanks to Donald Trump’s comments during the republican debates. Despite overwhelming scientific studies that have proven that there is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism, we continue to have people like Mr. Trump who prey on the fears of parents. I thought I’d take this time to explain to you what I see from the children that come to me asking if it’s true.

Most of the time, not always but a good 90% of the time, when a child asks me about vaccines and autism, they do so from a very personal place. Now granted, those other 10% of kids have a scientific curiosity and you can tell that they are genuinely just curious but for the rest, for all those other kids that I talk to, they’re worried and they’re scared. They feel like a mistake, an abomination and a victim.

I’ve talked to a lot of anti-vaccination parents and I know it’s not their intention and I know they love their children as much as any other parent but to be perfectly honest, that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Intentions or not, this is about how a child feels when they are told that they are a damaged product of a broken system that their parent didn’t want. Harsh? Maybe but this is the message that the child is receiving.

You don’t understand the damage you are doing to your own child with this nonsense. You really don’t. Your child will never tell you this because they are scared to death that you hate them and what they are… a broken version of the kid that you actually wanted. You are damaging your own child even worse than what you think those vaccines are doing. Your children are reaching out to total strangers on the Internet in search for answers because they are convinced that they are not the child you wanted. They are convinced that they are the source of your anger and your rage and your disappointment.

And you will disagree me and you will tell me that it’s not your child that I’m talking about but I’m telling you right now, and please listen to me… you clearly don’t see the impact. I am talking to these children every day and it’s breaking my heart. No one can convince them that they’re not a mistake and no one can make them believe that their parents love them when they grow up feeling like they are the foundation of your hate. And these children won’t let their parents know this. They don’t want to hurt their parents any more than what they think they’ve already done.

Please. Please! My heart is breaking for these poor children. They can’t take this. No child should be feeling this way! You can’t do this to them. You just can’t. I beg of you. I’m not asking you to stop believing what you believe. I don’t know, maybe I am. All I’m asking is… please stop doing this to your own children. To all of these children. To every child everywhere that is scared to death that they’re a broken, disappointing autistic byproduct of being poisoned.

Please don’t do this to them anymore.

  • I am Stuart Duncan, owner of Autcraft, a world wide Minecraft server with a user base of 6000 children that have autism. I speak to many of these children almost daily about some of the most personal aspects of their lives. I will not be sharing names or direct quotes as I do not want any of those children to feel like I am singling them out or giving clues as to their identity.
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