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Collaboration, technology and making things

This post is by Marc Sirkin, Autism Speaks Chief Community Officer. He spent this past weekend with Autism Speaks staff and a few incredible volunteers at Maker Faire NYC, a DIY conference that featured among other things cutting edge 3D printers, a wheelchair transport vehicle, a life sized mouse trap and a solar powered Carousel. He spent the weekend in a state of surprise, awe and laughter.
Creativity, innoviation and outlandish ideas are alive and well at something they call “Maker Faire.” Autism Speaks, as part of HP’s Hacking Autism initiative had the incredible opportunity to have a booth this past weekend at the event, held at the New York Hall of Science. If you are unfamiliar with Maker Faire, it is the premier event for grassroots American innovation. As the World’s Largest DIY Festival, this two-day family friendly Faire has something for everyone – a showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness and a celebration of the Maker mindset.
Basically, it is where kids of all ages go to make and build stuff. You can learn to solder, get a basic understanding of electronics and programming and for the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to get a very early glimpse of what’s to come.
As it relates to autism, it’s an incredible outlet for those interested in math, science, computers, programming and with building things. The Hacking Autism project, which we’ve blogged about before is the perfect blend of what’s great about Maker Faire and the response we got was absolutely incredible. Hacking Autism was launched in June 2011 to seek new ideas for technology applications beneficial to people with autism. Hacking Autism crowd sourced ideas for applications from all across the autism community, including families and practitioners. As demonstrated by the above concepts, the Hacking Autism initiative sought technology-based ideas to open up learning, communication and social possibilities.
After two live web chats (First, Second) the advisory committee selected some of the best ideas which Phil outlined in his talk. You can get a preview of some of the top ideas selected in the official press release.
We met family after family that had connections to the autism community; parents, caregivers, teachers and those on the spectrum themselves. We were blown away by their stories and their need for additional help, services, and software. They were thrilled with the possibilities and the innovation of Hacking Autism.
As I wandered around, I talked to people about autism and technology and met people from different companies who all had connections to our world and to our cause. We made new connections, got new ideas and were inspired by our time there. In the end, as we were packing away our materials and getting ready to head home, we learned that our booth and Hacking Autism had won and editor’s choice blue ribbon – apparently a very big deal! I of course snapped a pic and tweeted it immediately!
In thinking about our time at Maker Faire and the coming hackathon, I’m even more encouraged and inspired to push ahead in these new areas to find new connections, to keep learning about autism and to ultimately find new ways to make a difference for all those touched by autism.

P.S. Joey Hudy stopped by our offices on Friday and was featured at Maker Faire with his 3x3x3 cube technology. Joey is a “maker” and describes himself in the following way on his website, where he sells his creations: “I’m a 8th grade boy. I have Asperger Syndrome. I spend all my time building and making cool stuff.” Follow him on Twitter and visit his website.