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At the age of two, Toronto born Carly Fleischmann was diagnosed with autism. She is unable to speak and has few fine motor skills and was therefore written off by therapists as mentally handicapped. Nine years later, during her adolescent years while her parents debated possibly institutionalising her, they discovered through her use of a laptop that not only was she highly cognizant, but she was a rambunctious and insightful teenage girl living in a world that no-one without autism could possibly comprehend.
Autism is a commonly misunderstood condition by the general public and often treated with apprehension. Yet this is exactly what Carly has sought to demystify. Through the help and connections of her ad agency based father Arthur Fleischmann, Carly invites users into her world through a rich and interactive HTML5 campaign to experience the hardships that individuals with autism have to deal with on a daily basis. The intense point of view video illustrates the frustrations of sensory overload and the erratic difficulties in holding her concentration and leaves the user feeling jarred. The campaign has not gone unnoticed and “Carly’s Cafe” has subsequently been awarded a Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
It is, however, not surprising that this recent accolade is only one facet of this intriguing young women. Carly is an avid user of social media and has amassed a large following with her Facebook page nearing a 100 000 likes and her Twitter account has 43 000 followers. She shares the usual teenage concerns of boys and school work as well her cause to educate people about autism, but it is the manner in which she shares herself that is so engaging. It comes from such an untainted and genuine place that others looking to find solace and kinship share her victories and frustrations and rally in support. She has even had the backing of some notable celebrities for The Six Degree Project for Autism with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Micheal Buble and Mayim Balik (of Big Bang Theory fame) donning the blue scarf.
The truly remarkable fact is that all this communication is done by typing behind a keyboard with one finger, one letter at a time. Carly uses her two iPads and a laptop as her main tools of communication with the aid of apps such as the fully customisable ProLoQuo2Go. She is able to preload words and images to for certain events, such as a typical school camping trip, to aid in real-time communication and provides a text-to-voice interaction letting Carly “speak” to fellow students at the high school she attends, where she’s in a gifted English class.
“Technology has allowed me to communicate, learn social skills, implement relaxing techniques and played a crucial part in helping me how to spell,” she said in a discussion with US Senator John Kelly. “To me, technology is the key to unlocking autism.”
She is finding the aid of technology so crucial in her independence and ability to communicate that there was a debacle with an American airline company when stewards wanted to take her iPad away during a flight. In an email, Fleischmann told ABC News, “I use the iPad like a prosthetic limb and not as a toy. I think that is what is blinding people on this issue.”
The reason why this story is able to resonate with all of us that she is not just using technology and social media as a medium of interaction, its much deeper. Her online persona validates the insecurities we all have and holds up a mirror to our trivial shortcomings.
“We all have a inner voice, we just need to find away to get it out.” – Carly Fleischmann
The greater message here is, along with other pioneers like Keller and Hawkins who could have easily been dismissed as mentally handicapped when in fact they merely experience and sensed a world far from our comprehension, without the influence of these enriched minds and hopefully future minds that technology may be able to unlock, the journey and our understanding of the human condition would be incomplete.