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The Autism Network for Deaf/Hard of Hearing
and Blind/Visually Impaired

Autism Research Institute
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San Diego, California 92116 USA



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Welcome to the summer edition of our e-newsletter. We hope you will find this issue enlightening, from both an intellectual and practical viewpoint. 

Please let us know if you have any suggestions regarding future issues of this e-newsletter. Email: email us

Best Regards, Steve Edelson, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Autism Research Institute 

A Real-life navigation tool for blind and visually 
impaired/ASD populations, a high-tech start-up company, recently developed a smart-glass navigation tool that will assist those who are blind or visually impaired. For those unfamiliar with the new technology, smart glass (similar to Google Glass) is an optical head-mounted display that is worn like glasses and operates using a hands-free built-in computer. The camera enables the glass to "see" and users can control the smart glass using their voice (e.g., "take a picture" and "record a video").

Suman Kanuganti, the developer and CEO of, developed a way to assist or guide the wearer using audio communication. That is, another person, referred to as the "seeing eye agent" sits in a remote location, observes the surroundings through the smart glass, and provides the user with audio instructions on where to go, what to watch out for, etc. These guides will receive extensive training in all facets of alerting the user to potential safety hazards. In recent beta tests with over 100 individuals who were blind or had partial sight, guides successfully assisted participants in navigating busy traffic intersections, selecting clothing in a simulated department store, and shopping at a market. In addition, family, friends and volunteers can also be trained to be "seeing eye agents."

Life after high school for those with 
autism and who are deaf

There has been much discussion on the difficulty of diagnosing the co-occurrence of autism and deafness due to the overlapping communication deficits. As a result, children who are deaf/hard-of-hearing are often diagnosed with ASD at a later age than children who can hear well. Researchers at the University of Colorado found early evidence of autism in a longitudinal, retrospective study of three boys who were deaf or hard-of-hearing.

The study, published in Seminars in Speech and Language, details a number of developmental areas in which the three boys were evaluated. When analyzing the results, the researchers found that, despite the different profiles, the most significant early predictor of autism for all three was a decreasing developmental age quotient in a variety of areas. This decrease could either indicate a regression in one or more skills, or a plateau in development with a failure to learn new skills. In either case, the researchers state that such a decrease in age quotient scores should be seen as a red flag, necessitating a referral for a diagnostic assessment for autism.

Teen who is blind and with autism performs at the 
Festival of Families during Pope's Philadephia visit

Despite Christopher Duffley's dual challenges of ASD and blindness, his vocal prowess and passion are such that he was chosen to perform at the Festival of Families, which was organized during Pope Francis's recent visit to Philadelphia.

Although the Pope had to leave prior to the performance, Christopher said that he was very proud to perform at such an important event. His performance was broadcast simultaneously on 40 Jumbotrons, to nearly 1,000,000 people. Duffley, although only fourteen years of age, has already recorded two record albums and has sung at numerous major venues. During the Festival of Families, he sang in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Korean. A video of Christopher's impressive performance was aired on CNN during its coverage of the Pope's visit. 

     Communication device a big hit with those 
who are deaf or with ASD

In the year 2000, two job applicants who are deaf won a discrimination lawsuit against Walmart. Since that time, Walmart has not only hired employees who are deaf, but has provided these employees with communication accommodations, such as sign language interpreters and vibrating pagers.

More recently, in its Sam's Club stores, Walmart management installed the UbiDuo system, which is a communication device that allows managers and employees who are deaf to communicate using simultaneous typing. The wireless devices allow people to interact face-to-face and in real time.

Once installed, customers who were deaf or had autism began to use the UbiDuos to communicate. Those with autism found the devices to be an effective way to ask questions of employees, whether the employee was deaf or heard well.

UbiDuos have become popular at schools and universities where they have been used for one-on-one and group tutoring; they have also proved helpful with group projects among students.

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