How Autistic Individuals Have Helped Direct Cognitopia’s Development

Cognitopia’s development of self-management applications has been shaped by people with autism in ways both direct and indirect. From the beginning we have used a participatory design process whereby students and adults with autism work with us on design iteration and testing. For example, for the last five years, we’ve had a deep collaborative relationship with a local transition program serving students aged 18-21 with autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and traumatic brain injury.

Students from that program, in which autism is the predominant diagnosis, come to our office on a weekly basis during the school year for a class that gives them the opportunity to learn self-management and give us design feedback and input on features that are most important to them. 

Since we are always designing both to build independence and to optimize the role of supporters, teachers and instructional aides from that program have also contributed their input on applications and on a draft transition curriculum we’ve created to foster implementation in schools. 

We’ve had more than one student have the experience of suggesting something, seeing it appear in an app later on, and experiencing a cool “hey, that’s my feature” kind of moment. This kind of embedded development helps to ensure that we keep a focus on cognitive accessibility and functionality that addresses real-world needs.

We also collaborate with Smart Living, Learning, and Earning with Autism an innovative transitional housing and employment program here in Eugene serving about 25 people with autism. We recently co-produced two videos with them showing how they use Cognitopia (watch them here and here). Our work with them is ongoing and has benefited from a $45,000 grant to SLLEA from The Gibney Family Foundation that has created paid employment opportunities in video production for individuals with ASD

We also work with the information sciences and media production programs at Lane Community College to provide internship opportunities for students with autism who are working toward associates degrees in those areas. One computer science student interned with us as a coder three years ago and became an hourly employee before moving to Portland where he has continued as an IT professional. 

Another student with autism, Nate Emerson, interned with us in a video production position last year and has continued through the present as an hourly employee. Nate also works as director of the series of videos being produced with writers, actors, and production assistants with autism served by SLLEA. The concept for those is an offbeat, creative approach to teaching home management in an entertaining way: How to Clean Your Room, How to Clean the Kitchen, Doing Laundry.

As is not uncommon in the field of special education and disability, we have also been deeply influenced by our roles as parents, siblings, and friends to individuals with autism. Whether through lived experience directly or through these various roles, these perspectives inform our practical sense of what may be needed and they form the foundation for our development efforts.

And of course, we are constantly learning from the experience of the growing number of students and adults with autism and other cognitive disabilities who use the Cognitopia Platform for Self-Determination to self-direct their Individualized Education Plans, drive their own person-centered planning sessions, or improve their ability to better manage daily life, work, and community life.

For further information or insights into Cognitopia’s inclusion of individuals with disabilities in its work, we invite you to explore these additional links.

  • Self-Directed IEP Using the MyLife Tool in Cognitopia: Watch the video
  • The Order of Self-Determination Club in Arlington, VA Recipient of the First Annual James Keating Memorial Self-Determination Award: Read the story
  • Intelligent Lives Screening Highlights Community Inclusion and a Q&A: Read the story
  • Healthy Cooking Becomes Routine for Residents of Independent Living Program: Read the story
  • New Eugene Springfield Community Conversations Event Seeks to Identify Employment Solutions for Community Members Experiencing Disability: Read the story

About Tom Keating

Tom Keating, Ph.D. is co-founder and CEO of Cognitopia, home of the Cognitopia Connect platform for life management applications. Keating has been focused for the past 20 years on research and development of self-management and community living applications for individuals with cognitive disabilities including autism, intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injury, and cognitive decline due to aging.

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