Innovative family business aims to change the world for children with autism

The inspirational Dodd Family, Valerie, Conor, Eoin and Enda.

The inspirational Dodd Family, Valerie, Conor, Eoin and Enda.

Enda and Valerie Dodd’s innovative software solution ‘ALL’, named after their company, Animated Language Learning, is driven by the belief that they can change the world for children with autism and their families.

Since its inception in 2016, ALL has been adopted by 300 families and schools in Ireland, Europe and the US, and is on track to reach its 301st customer and far beyond that number by the end of 2017.Based at NUI Galway’s Business Innovation Centre, ALL is an effective autism speech and language learning program that has already lifted the Dodds’ 19-year old twin sons’ Conor and Eoin from the isolation of autism, and is making it accessible to every family in need.

Teenager Conor Dodd, diagnosed as a severely non-verbal autistic child, now teaches special needs children to communicate and is working on developing the ALL program at the family business on campus at NUI Galway. In this extraordinary story of hope for families of children with autism, Conor’s journey and what his future holds is an inspirational one.

Toy Story

Conor’s world began with him being unable to communicate with the rest of the world despite clearly understanding people. Like many children suffering from autism he was trapped within his own world unable to escape and frustrated that no one could hear him. Now a 20 year-old adult, Conor has achieved the impossible through the help of Disney animated films like Toy Story and the family businesses’ Animated Learning Language program.

As a child, Conor was diagnosed with a particularly severe form of autism that included deafness, cognitive deficits, profound language disorder and global dyspraxia. Any of these conditions would have left Conor with communication deficits but in combination his condition was viewed as hopeless.

And yet, deep inside, his parents felt he showed determination and abilities if they could just reach him. It took Conor and his equally autistic brother Eoin to show their parents how to turn hopeless into hopeful through their interest in all things Disney.

Having discovered how to develop the boys’ communication through using Disney media, Enda Dodd built a multinational research team to make the solution available to parents around the world. One evening Enda was building the technology at home with Conor observing as he worked. Tired from a long day, he stepped away from his computer to take a break and when he returned Conor was sitting at the keyboard programming language concepts effortlessly.

From that day forward Conor emerged as a key contributor to creating the language learning content which is now being used by hundreds of families around the world. With the support of Disney and Adobe, the Dodd family have worked tirelessly on this new concept developing the ALL solution for families and teachers of children with autism. Conor is particularly adept with computers and very determined when he sees a challenge in front of him.

Thinking of what might have been

The enormity of what Conor is doing is not lost on his parents as they speak about what a typical day might have been for Conor: hospitalised and unresponsive because of the severity of the condition, attending clinics, seeking private schooling beyond their financial reach, ultimately unchallenged and unfulfilled.

Today, the contrast with Conor’s activities couldn’t be greater: from working in the family business on campus, developing and programming their animated language learning platform, to running with the Galway City Harriers, sailing, playing tennis and enjoying his new life on campus at NUI Galway. He has been overwhelmed with the support students and staff at the University have shown him in learning new skills.

Speaking about his son’s extraordinary progress, Enda Dodd said: “For Conor to have overcome profound communication disabilities was a miracle in itself. And for him to have dropped out of school to become a leader in language development research is just beyond anything we could have imagined. Conor’s time at the University just lights up his day and there is just so much opportunity for growth both professionally and personally. We owe a great deal to the Business Innovation Centre and its leadership in making our presence here a reality. Conor has flourished since our arrival on campus and he is now a very happy fun loving person.”

At the Business Innovation Centre, Conor works with his Dad, Enda and a small team of language researchers. He is focused on the creation of language learning programs for children who cannot communicate as he once couldn’t as a child. Employing media from Disney and specialised tools provided by Adobe in Silicon Valley, he is changing the world for autistic children.

Helping families all over the globe

Fiona Neary, Business Development Manager in the Business Innovation Centre at NUI Galway, commented: “Companies come and companies go, success and failures are close at hand with all start-ups, but the sheer determination of the Dodd family will ensure ALL is around for a long time to come, helping families all over the globe. They understand that to be truly successful you never give up and through their product they will continue to change the lives of families with autism. NUI Galway Business Innovation Centre is truly inspired by their work and 100% committed to supporting this family business.”

Dr Patrick Farren, Lecturer in the School of Education at NUI Galway, said: “As a language educator, I am excited to be part of a team working with Enda and his family on creating cutting-edge, interactive platforms that support language acquisition, (meta )cognitive and emotional development. What he has achieved to date is amazing.”

To order a programme and learn more about ALL visit: www.animatedlanguagelearning.com

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