Science and the Internet helping autistic boy find his voice
Published Thursday, July 5, 2012 9:00AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 5, 2012 9:40AM EDT
Jordan Hilkowitz is a 10-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont. who has built a remarkable following on YouTube by filming kid-friendly science experiments.
What’s even more remarkable is that Jordan is autistic and, until five years ago, barely spoke at all.
Jordan, better known as Doctor Mad Science, scripts his own experiments and then enthusiastically performs them in front of a camera with the help of his mother. He then helps her edit the clips and loads them onto YouTube.
His infectious scientific wonderment has earned Jordan’s videos more than 1.5 million views. He now has 3,800 subscribers to his YouTube channel, close to 2,000 ‘Likes’ on Facebook and a growing Twitter following. And all in just over a year.
Jordan’s family says their son was always interested in science. Even as a preschooler, he collected rocks, worked on circuits and, once installed pulleys all over his house.
But until he was five, he spoke only rarely. That all changed last year, when his babysitter, Tracy, suggested that instead of just performing messy experiments at home, they film some of them and get them online.
“One day, Tracy and I went on YouTube and we realized that with a bunch of crazy chemicals that we can find, we could make these items that teach kids that science is everywhere,” Jordan told CTV’s Canada AM Thursday.
Tracy thought the process would force Jordan to work on his speech and perhaps, gain some confidence. She was right on both counts.
“There’s been a huge transformation,” Tracy says.
“He has more confidence, he has so many friends, all his friends at school now are asking him how to do their own experiments, talking to him online. The stories that we get and the comments that we hear on Facebook and Twitter and our website are remarkable. Jordan is just transformed.”
While Jordan and Tracy spoke with Canada AM, they demonstrated what happens when yeast, hydrogen peroxide, liquid soap and food colour get together. (The answer: a huge, bubbling colourful mess.)
Jordan’s online videos are just the latest example of what autistic kids can learn to do once they are handed the tools of social media.
Carly Fleischmann, a high school student from Toronto, is another example. Though she is fully non-verbal, she has learned to communicate with her computer, building her own following on Twitter and Facebook as well.
For researchers in autism, these kids are offering intriguing new insights into how technology and social media can help “unlock” the voices of non-verbal children with autism.