Date Published: 29-Nov-2012
BY MICHELLE MCDONAGH
When twins Eoin and Conor Dodd were diagnosed with severe autism and cognitive problems as toddlers, their future appeared bleak. Their condition was so severe that their parents were told the boys would likely need institutionalised care by their early teens.
However, Enda and Valerie Dodd were not prepared to give up so easily on the children they had waited eleven long years for.
“Although we were aware of their diagnosis, the boys appeared to be quite intelligent to us,” Enda explains. They were well able to hide and find things, unlock doors and get out of the house. There appeared to be something inside, we just had to figure out a way of accessing their minds.”
The Dodds relocated from Galway to the San Francisco Bay area in an attempt to find some way of lifting the twins out of the isolation of autism.
With Enda’s experience in applied medical research and Valerie’s as a school teacher, they worked with researchers at the University of California to unravel the mysteries of their children’s language deficits. The result is Animated Language Learning (ALL), a state-of-the-art visually based language learning programme that uses clips from popular Disney Pixar movies like Toy Story to help autistic kids learn how to speak.
“While the boys had difficulties communicating, they were very intelligent visually and had substantial problem solving capabilities. My thinking was that if they could think visually, then we could grow them visually. When I asked myself what was the most powerful image for six year old children, straight away I thought of Disney Pixar,” Enda says.
Dodd, who has full access to the entire Disney Pixar archive for his research, found he could take the images from such well-loved movies as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars and Monsters Inc and attach a language or method of communication to them.
The boys went from having no language at all until the age of nine or ten to suddenly learning how to attach concepts to the images they were looking at and learning how to speak. They then developed the ability to hear and understand language — the opposite of the normal path of learning language in children.
“The boys are now 15 years old. For a child who did not speak for his first nine or ten years, Eoin would now talk the hind legs off a donkey and is at peer level in terms of his language abilities. Conor now has the literacy of an eight or nine year old child and we are focusing on continuing to develop his speech and listening skills over the next year.”
Once a pilot study is complete and Dodd is absolutely satisfied it works as an effective learning intervention in the homes of children with autism and learning disorders, he will release the software commercially and come to a royalty arrangement with Disney Pixar.
“We believe we have found the right mechanism to access the minds of these children. We have the ability to deliver something at a fraction of the cost of existing interventions, but on a hugely more powerful level. I credit the technology, you just click on the desktop to open the software and let the programme run.”
For further information, go to www.animatedlanguagelearning.com
For more on this story, see the Galway City Tribune.
The way we were – Protecting archives of our past
People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.
Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.
She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.
Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.
Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.
When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.
Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.
And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.
All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.
“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”
That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.
For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here
Henshaw and McSharry set to field for Irish Wolfhounds in clash with England Saxons
Date Published: 24-Jan-2013
CONNACHT’S rising stars Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry look set to named in the starting xv for the Ireland Wolfhounds who face the England Saxons in Galway this weekend when the team is announced later today (Thursday).
Robbie Henshaw is the only out-and-out full-back that was named Tuesday in the 23-man squad that will take on the English at the Sportsground this Friday (7.45pm).
Connacht’s centre McSharry and Ulster’s Darren Cave are the only two specialist centres named in the 23 man squad, which would also suggest the two youngsters are in line for a starting place.
Former Connacht out-half, Ian Keatley, Leinster’s second out-half Ian Madigan and Ulster’s number 10 Paddy Jackson and winger Andrew Trimble, although not specialist full-backs or centres, can all slot into the 12, 13 and 15 jerseys, however you’d expect the Irish management will hand debuts to Henshaw and McSharry given that they’ll be playing on their home turf.
Aged 19, Henshaw was still playing Schools Cup rugby last season. The Athlone born Connacht Academy back burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season when he filled the number 15 position for injured captain Gavin Duffy.
The Marist College and former Ireland U19 representative was so assured under the high ball, so impressive on the counter-attack and astute with the boot, that he retained the full-back position when Duffy returned from injury.
Connacht coach Eric Elwood should be commended for giving the young Buccaneers clubman a chance to shine and Henshaw has grasped that opportunity with both hands, lighting up the RaboDirect PRO 12 and Heineken Cup campaigns for the Westerners this season.
Henshaw has played in all 19 of Connacht’s games this season and his man-of-the-match display last weekend in the Heineken Cup against Zebre caught the eye of Irish attack coach, Les Kiss.
“We’re really excited about his development. He had to step into the breach when Connacht lost Gavin Duffy, and he was playing 13 earlier in the year. When he had to put his hand up for that, he’s done an exceptional job,” Kiss said.
The 22-year-old McSharry was desperately unlucky to miss out on Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and the Dubliner will relish the opportunity this Friday night to show-off his speed, turn of foot, deft hands and finishing prowess that has been a mark of this season, in particular, with Connacht.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Drinks battle brewing as kettle sales go off the boil
Date Published: 30-Jan-2013
You’d have thought there might have been three certainties in Irish life – death, taxes and the cup of tea – but it now seems that our post-tiger sophistication in endangering the consumption of the nation’s second favourite beverage.
Because with all of our new-fangled coffee machines, percolators, cappuccino and expresso makers, sales of the humble kettle are falling faster than our hopes of a write-off on the promissory note.
And even when we do make tea, we don’t need a tea pot – it’s all tea bags these days because nobody wants a mouthful of tea leaves, unless they’re planning to have their fortune told.
Sales of kettles are in decline as consumers opt for fancy coffee makers, hot water dispensers and other methods to make their beverages – at least that’s the case in the UK and there’s no reason to think it’s any different here.
And it’s only seems like yesterday when, if the hearth was the heart of every home, the kettle that hung over the inglenook fireplace or whistled gently on the range, was the soul.
You’d see groups gathered in bogs, footing turf and then breaking off to boil the battered old kettle for a well-earned break.
The first thing that happened when you dropped into someone’s home was the host saying: “Hold on until I stick on the kettle.”
When the prodigal son arrived home for the Christmas, first item on the agenda was a cup of tea; when bad news was delivered, the pain was eased with a cuppa; last thing at night was tea with a biscuit.
The arrival of electric kettles meant there was no longer an eternal search for matches to light the gas; we even had little electric coils that would boil water into tea in our cup if you were mean enough or unlucky enough to be making tea for one.
We went away on sun holidays, armed with an ocean of lotion and a suitcase full of Denny’s sausages and Barry’s Tea. Spanish tea just wasn’t the same and there was nothing like a nice brew to lift the sagging spirits.
We even coped with the arrival of coffee because for a long time it was just Maxwell House or Nescafe granules which might have seemed like the height of sophistication – but they still required a kettle.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.