Andrew Gajkowski, 17, is living with autism. The disorder impacts every aspect of the bright Phoenix teenager’s life and affects how Andrew interacts with the world and how the world interacts with Andrew. Autism Spectrum Disorder affects one in every 110 American children under the age of eight. While great strides have been made in the treatment and teaching options for those living with autism, there are still many gaps.
Andrew fell into one of those gaps.
At school, Andrew performed well academically, but his social skills and difficulty with sensory input made the classroom a difficult place for him to learn. Andrew and his parents met with a variety of school administrators and health care providers to address his challenges at school, but were unsuccessful in identifying a workable solution.
“There are a lack of programs to support highly functioning autistic students in the school system,” said Sandi Sybrant, Andrew’s mother, whose search for treatment options for Andrew led to Touchstone Behavioral Health, a Phoenix-based treatment center that specializes in working with children. “We were fortunate to have the team at Touchstone’s Family-Centered Autism Program evaluate Andrew, identify where he was on the autism spectrum, and reach him by building trust and providing a safe place to learn social skills.”
Early in his program, the Touchstone team identified Andrew’s aptitude and passion for Information Technology. To further his development, the Touchstone team had Andrew start working with Steve Porter, Chief Information Officer at Touchstone Behavioral Health. Porter had worked with many people like Andrew and was constantly exploring new and different ways to overcome some of the barriers to successful treatment.
“We’ve been looking for ways to integrate virtual desktop technology into some of our autism programs for a couple of years now,” said Porter. “With Virtuon’s most recent refinements, the vPresence virtual desktop gives Andrew and me the freedom to work safely and securely on his social and computer skills without being locked in a computer lab.”
Remote access to specialized autism treatment tools allows therapists and patients like Andrew to continue developing real-world life skills outside of traditional clinical environments. In Andrew’s specific case, his natural interest in computers allows Steve to use technology to expand Andrew’s social skills in an environment where he can thrive. The result is that Andrew is more outgoing with an expanded social skill set, and while he lives with the disorder, autism no longer challenges his ability to interact in the real world to the same extent.
“Virtuon’s vPresence was designed to have a positive impact in people’s lives, and this natural autism treatment link is part of its continued evolution,” said Forrest Blair, CEO of Virtuon. “Seeing the role our virtual desktop technology has played in helping Andrew overcome the challenges he has faced his entire life is truly encouraging, and we’re happy to be a part of his success.”
Beyond his autism treatment, Virtuon’s vPresence has allowed Andrew to set and reach other life goals, including challenging an IT certification exam as he pursues a career in the IT world and enrolling in Northern Arizona University’s Bachelor of Science in Technology Management program. Further to that, Andrew is now working with Steve to mentor other children with autism as they integrate vPresence into their treatment.
“This virtual desktop has helped me to find my place in the world,” said Andrew. “When I’m working on IT, I’m powerful in my own world, and that’s what’s missing for a lot of (autistic) kids.”