The Computer Science Society is getting ready to launch a new community initiative they hope will be a great benefit to parents of children with autism.
The group is planning a 48-hour code-a-thon Feb. 17-19 to design, develop and test a web-based software application to connect families and therapists.
“One of the things that came up in our society meetings was a desire to something that could truly benefit society,” said Mark Gauci, a computer science undergraduate student and project manager for the challenge. Team members Tim Oram, Lesley Chard, Ryan Martin, Mark Stacy and Whymarrh Whitby join him in the task of leading a group of volunteer computer science students through the undertaking.
The endeavour is near and dear to Mr. Gauci’s heart. As the parent of a young child with autism, he knows from experience how hard it is to find a therapist trained in applied behaviour analysis (ABA), one of the methods of treatment commonly used by families.
“We’re on our fourth therapist now and finding a therapist is a chore,” he explained. “There are only a few ways to find them – posting on a bulletin board in the Autism Society office or on the bulletin boards at Memorial University where many of the ABA therapists go to school, or you can post something on Kijiji. Even then, if you find someone, your schedules may not match.”
He realized that if the computer science students could join together to create online software that would allow therapists and parents to register and match them by their geographic location and preferred schedule, it could be of great use.
“We intend to keep personal information light for security reasons – no name or resumé, basically just a user name, contact number and/or email address,” said Mr. Gauci. “In fact, we’re hoping to set it up so when you first message a person you don’t even see their email. It will go to their inbox and if they decide they want to contact you, they will. Once they make the connection, we snap off and it’s in their court.”
But Mr. Gauci believes the software’s schedule matching ability will have the biggest value.
“When they register they will put in particular information such as whether or not the therapist has a specific course, where they will work and what times,” said Mr. Gauci. “Parents might also say their child will only work with women or men. But the schedule is where the magic happens.
“If you are a therapist looking for work, the algorithm will search through all the parents that have registered and rank the top match for your schedule,” said Mr. Gauci. “So not only have you have found someone, but you already have the scheduling issue out of the way. Now you just have to contact them and meet them to see if you are a good fit for their family.”
The students intend to make this open source software that will be free to all. They are hoping that it can be tweaked so other groups offering services such as babysitters or home care can also use it.
“When we’re done we’re going to create a development kit so that anyone can grab it and customize it to their needs.”
As a mature student, Mr. Gauci has been quite impressed with the willingness of his fellow students to give up their midterm break for such a great cause. He’s hoping the project will be able to give something back to them as well.
“We have some super computer science students with little job experience,” he said. “I believe this project will help create that experience, develop leadership skills as well as show the community what computer science can do.
“These students can provide a tangible product that can be used in the real world and provide real world solutions. This is something that really needs to be out there.”
The code-a-thon will be live broadcasted at http://community.muncompsci.ca/ beginning at noon on Sunday, Feb. 17.