Sunday, March 12, 2006

Eyegaze

These weeks have been so busy, I'm beginning to wonder if I can really keep up a blog or not--or what exactly is involved in keeping a blog. Is it writing every day? Or just regularly? I think I fail on both counts.

Am back in a period when everything I want to do feels as though it should be pushed back simply because it is something I want to do. It's the old feeling from the kids being little: other things must come first. My husband never really has that sense that the things that are his passion must come second--although I think that that is a function of the fact that his passion and his business are the same thing. And he is the primary breadwinner at the moment. So there is an imperative for him to follow his passion that is wedded to necessity. I pick up the family slack, which is not entirely my passion, but it is necessity.

Robert's Eyegaze communicator arrived Friday. The augmentative communication staff from the school, Roger, and I met with the woman from LC Technologies. It's basically this computer with a camera: monitor, small computer box, and camera. The monitor is a flat screen and it mounts on an arm--we bought the portable model, which, eventually will attach to Robert's wheelchair, but probably not until he is older and the chair is larger. It has a lot of complicated cables.

I have the same anxiety with it that I have with any piece of electronic equipment: I'm not bad at learning electronic devices--in fact, I'm reasonably good at it--but will I be able to conquer this one? It doesn't seem that hard: you have to learn how to seat the person, adjust the monitor, focus the camera, calibrate the eye gaze of the user, and then learn the relatively simply software set up. There are more complex software set ups, but Robert has to learn the basics initially. He will grow into this, but it is an incredibly sophisiticated device with a huge amount of potential. Motivation will be the biggest factor initially, because the stuff he has to learn how to do first just isn't that exciting. But he will be able to play some computer games with it--some of the kiddie software we already own--but first he has to learn how to train his gaze.

I tried it. It is something learned, but once you get the concept, it's not too hard. The eyes move so fast that it was initially hard to control my gaze. I never realized how quickly my eyes move! So I kept lighting up all the wrong things--that is, things I had not intended. I had to actually think to myself, slow down. The time needed for activation of a cell by the eye had been set at 0.5 seconds--which is actually longer than it sounds when you're using your eyes.

The other drawback for a computer user was that your eyes move ahead of the selection cursor, and you had to remind yourself to wait on your selection for the cursor. Computer users are so used to looking for the cursor, that I'd look at what I wanted to activate, then realize the cursor wasn't there, and look around to find it--which would then make the cursor jump all around since it was being activated with the eyes and not the hands. And, imagine, all this quick thinking took place in less than half a second!

I just pray that Robert can do this. I know he can. He tested well on it last summer. He was not particularly successful on Friday because his baclofen dose (which enlarges the pupil) had been upped in the meantime--and it made his pupil too large for the camera to consistently recognize. But we are lowering his dose, and then it should be OK. He seemed initially interested and then discouraged and uncooperative on Friday. I think I will try to motivate him as we correct the pupil issue by encouraging him to learn the boring parts so he can play computer games and by telling him how much we want to start knowing what he's thinking.

Wish us luck.

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