This “In Their Own Words” post is by Nicholas James DeTommaso. Nicholas recently earned the high distinction of Eagle Scout by creating a website to document and archive the photos,memorabilia and create oral histories of the local American Legion Post 1718 following the sale of their building. He now attends Cooper Union for the Advancement of Arts and Sciences in New York City on full scholarship. Nicholas’s hopes to develop video games and programming as social learning tools for those who find normal socialization difficult.
At two years old I stopped crying and laughing out loud; I had lost my vocabulary word by word and, I no longer laughed or cried out loud. I had autism, specifically, high-functioning Asperger Syndrome. Communication skills were nonexistent. I had to relearn all of my vocabulary. Word by word, I gained it back, but as I got older, there were social ramifications—talking to new friends was tough. I had a few quirks, sure—I was frustrated at seemingly random times. One other thing—I never said, “Thank you.”
It seemed I could develop friendships and keep them by playing video games. How could something designed for mindless entertainment help an autistic child improve communication and social skills? As James Paul Gee has stated in his 2003 book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, “The video game environment is an environment where everyone has equal access and is treated equitably.” That even starting field was the door through which I could now enter the social world of play.
The logic of computer programming and electrical engineering is fascinating to me. The art of creating programs and to see them work through—to me there is no feeling quite like it. It is a feeling of creation, of satisfaction. By building on these known basics, I’d like to create games, learning tools through fun, which could start autistic children to not only communicate, but also grow socially, in the way I did.
My gift from others, my ability to speak and act socially, is a gift I have never forgotten. I frequently remind myself how lucky I am to have received the help I have over the years, and to that end I always endeavor to give back. In doing so, I not only feel the satisfaction of helping those less fortunate than I, but I also feel happy to repay in part the gifts given to me. Service to others has always been a tenet of my family, and my participation in volunteer groups such as the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, and my church gives me the opportunity to do just that. I suppose, in the end, that it’s my way of saying, “thank you.”