Info & Answers
Electronics Pro Uses Automation to Aid Autistic Son
Thanks to a Control4 setup, Mark Buzzard hopes the "visual communication strategy" of conveying, for instance, "bath time" that helps his 2-year-old son will help others.
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Two-year-old Brody Buzzard, who has mild autism, “hears” better when pictures accompany verbal instructions.
August 20, 2010 by Julie Jacobson

Brody Buzzard is a playful 2-year-old with a mild case of autism. So it’s no surprise that his father Mark, principal of Liberty Bell Alarm & Home Theater in Sacramento, Calif., has taken an interest in home health technology.

As a Control4 dealer, Mark Buzzard has rigged an automation system specifically for the needs of Brody and his care takers - mom and dad.

“Autistic children are very visual,” says Buzzard. “Using a visual communication strategy really helps them understand what is happening next and what to expect. It relieves a lot of stress and creates stability for them.”

Buzzard explains that Brody “hears” better when pictures and objects accompany verbal instructions.

For example, he better understands “bath time” when a picture is presented of a kid splashing in the tub … rather than just parental goading. The Buzzards use third-party products and Apple iPod/iPad apps for this purpose, but dad would like to integrate such applications into a Control4 system for Brody and others like him.

Buzzard recently sent Liberty’s top programmer to a Control4 developers’ conference so the integrator could write and market its own apps with the upcoming 2.0 release and Flash architecture.

Specifically, Buzzard intends to create an app for Control4 similar to the iPod/iPad version of iPrompts from HandHold Adaptive, which employs visual prompting templates to help individuals transition from one activity to the next, understand upcoming events, make choices and focus on the task at hand.

“My goal is to have a visual for Brody that will communicate routines like bath time, play time, lunch time, dinner, breakfast, outside, haircut, therapy time, cleanup, etc.,” Buzzard says. “It could pop up the image/activity on the touchpanel, TV or iPad to prepare him, show the text, and maybe announce the activity.”

Brody has his wall-mounted touchscreen installed at child-level height in his bedroom.

The Buzzard household uses Control4 to send email and text alerts to the parents, and audio announcements to Brody, if the toddler tries to sneak out of the room.

“He also falls asleep to his favorite cartoon and I shut off his TV and dim the lights from another room without having to make any noise entering and exiting his room,” Buzzard says. “Sometimes he’ll get up and make a mess, so I have a motion set to alert me if he’s being a little renegade in the middle of the night or during nap times.”

In addition, an IP camera in Brody’s room is integrated into the whole-house Control4 system, so the parents can monitor his playtime, as well as his progress in therapy.

And Brody loves music, so dad has rigged the Control4 system to run certain playlists for different routines such as bath time.

Like all 2-year-olds, Brody “loves to lock and unlock the doors now, so my next step is to install ZigBee door locks [from Kwikset] and add those to the system for alerts and control,” Buzzard says.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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