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
Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr
Date Published: 23-Jan-2013
Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup
Date Published: 29-Jan-2013
Athenry FC 1
Kilbarrack United 2
(After extra time)
For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.
On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.
An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.
However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.
They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.
With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.
Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.
Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.
Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.