The Akiva Metaverse Series

Akiva started when two fathers of neurodivergent children decided to improve the state of global education for children with special needs. This passion project has been in the works for the last several years, however the technology was not mature enough to realize the vision of the co-founders. With the proliferation of virtual reality and the hard work of a team of the most passionate and experienced game developers, data scientists, data engineers, security engineers, cloud engineers, PHD psychology advisors, designers, and quality assurance engineers, it is finally possible to create the learning ecosystem – AKIVA on the Oculus Quest 2 VR Platform.

AKIVA EPISODE 2: BILL MACDONALD

Bill got involved with the Canucks Autism Network over a decade ago and has been its Chairman of the Board for the past few years. Frustration with the inefficient hoops families need to go through after receiving their first autism diagnosis led Bill to Alex Landa where they co-founded Akiva. As parents to autistic children, Bill and Alex understood the need to create a better learning system that doesn’t rely on the one hour a therapist randomly picks to visit the child regardless of their ability to learn at that particular moment.

By creating an educational system on a platform owned by the families, people can learn at their own pace, wherever they are most comfortable and at times where they are most likely to find success. It literally puts success into the hands of the individual.

And focusing on the visual engagement most people on the spectrum find success at, the Akiva Metaverse is accessible through Virtual Reality on the Oculus Quest 2. You don’t even need controllers to make it work. Through hand tracking and a companion app, people of varying degrees of capabilities are able to take part in Akiva and they can do so at many stages of life development. While currently designed for both younger kids and older kids, the overall intention is for Akiva to stay with the individual and help them as they age and transition into adulthood. Constantly creating new worlds and stories, Akiva is a great way to immerse the user in an educational ecosystem in a fun and engaging way.

TRANSCRIPT

Akiva – Bill Macdonald Interview

Thu, 4/28 6:24PM • 19:23

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

kids, technology, child, early intervention, therapy, platform, families, autism, vision, spectrum, data, system, resources, grow, aiden, cost, vocational training, alex, efficient, educational

Read More...

SPEAKERS

Vincent Dela Luna, Bill Macdonald, Karen Simmons‍

Vincent Dela Luna  

Hi, we’d like to welcome Bill Macdonald, who’s been involved in autism for a very, very long time. Bill, can you tell us how you got involved in the world of autism?

Bill Macdonald  

Certainly I’m the parent of a child on the spectrum. He’s now Aidenis now 18 years old. He got diagnosed at just before he was four, so pretty common time for diagnosis. So we’ve been involved, as is, as has every parent been for some time ever since the day of that diagnosis in some capacity?

Karen Simmons  

And what brought you into the Canucks Autism Network?

Bill Macdonald  

Well, really, that was a lucky set of circumstances from a mutual friend of mine, who was familiar with the organization and familiar with the founder Paolo Aquilini.  Paolo had a so non the spectrum, which is how the Canucks Autism Network got founded in the first place. And this mutual friends said you’ve got to get to know Paolo. He knew that my son was on the spectrum. So we met a long time ago, hit it off tremendously. And he told me about CAN, and the Canucks Autism Network was such a unique organization in that it provided educational, well, social, primarily recreational opportunities for kids that just didn’t have that the there was no resources for that, that we could find anywhere. So Paolo, to his credit, saw that and started this this organization. So when I saw it, I was so blessed that I could find this this group of people, and with the support system, and programs, where they didn’t exist anywhere else, because every kid has, needs to have a chance to, to socialize, to participate in sports to be a member of a team, regardless of their level of ability. So I really was fortunate to get introduced to Paolo, he got me on the board about 10 years ago, and I’ve been chairman of the board for three years now. So become a it’s become a big part of our lives and our family, either as a as a, as the chairman or my son Aiden is a participant when my older son is a volunteer. So it’s, it’s grown exponentially over the years. And thankfully, we’re reaching a lot more families a lot more programs around the province. And that’s how I got involved and how why I’m staying involved is because we are I think creating a lot of positive environments for kids and their families in the province for resources that that they don’t otherwise have at no cost to the families.

Vincent Dela Luna  

How did you get from there to getting involved in this whole new technological world with virtual reality?

Bill Macdonald  

Well, I think like a lot of parents going through traditional educational therapy process once you once you get the diagnosis. You know, I found a lot of frustrations with the system. A lot of inefficiencies that crazy costs that were associated to therapy and access to therapy. And in the back of my mind, I’d always thought there’s got to be a better way to do this. There’s got to be a way to democratize this process to make it more accessible, more cost affordable. Make it because this problem knows no boundaries, this and this problem doesn’t. It doesn’t differentiate language or location or anything. So how with technology can we address some of these things? But I’m not a technological guy. I’m a corporate lawyer by trade, but luckily I got introduced to by my partner, my co founder, who is a tech entrepreneur, and also had a son on spectrum. And he had a vision that we could solve a lot of these problems through the right use of the right technology, primarily virtual reality and artificial intelligence. So when I met with him, when I met with Alex, we were two sides of the same coin, we had the similar experiences the same frustrations, the same dissatisfaction with with the current set of circumstances and the current path for these kids. But me, instead of just being frustrated about it, he’s had a vision for how to address these problems. And using the right technology now that it had caught up to what his vision wasthat we can, we can make this a much, much better system process path for thesekids and their families with the outpush of the right technology. So we canmake it more cost effective, more accessible, more consistent, better earlyintervention, and continuity of care as they grow in our system. And ourplatform goes with it. So I was just so the short story is I was just lucky tomeet the right guy at the right time, with a similar story with a similarvision, but he was able to implement it. And I’ve luckily been the co founderand going along for the ride and trying to grow the project with him. And nowwe’re at a very exciting tipping point and getting to the market and getting tohelp some of these families with this.

Vincent Dela Luna  

Great.

Karen Simmons  

That is so exciting.

Vincent Dela Luna  

Where do you see going from here? What’s your plan for the futureof Akiva?

Bill Macdonald  

Well, I think the plan is that there’s really no no limit to it. Sothe plan now is to really have a resource for families when they get thatinitial diagnosis and their and their cast adrift. And where do I go? What do Ido? What resources do I have?  We want toat least be something that they can plug into easily, quickly, readily costefficient, so they can get get speech therapy, get get beat behavioral therapy,get some of those early intervention things going? While they may be buildingup their home team and building up the therapist system, and all those thingsthat take time, I think time and cost and there’s inefficiencies, and you neverknow how long it’s going to take when when you could be doing something rightaway. And what we’re starting with us with Akiva that may start that rightaway, but it’s going to evolve with your child. So it’s not something that’sjust there and help you get going. It’s there to grow with your child as well.So from that, from that initial diagnosis, early intervention, and then to growwith the child, all the way through, ideally, them into the teens and young adults,and needing help on social emotional side, vocational training, potentiallyhelping with employers integrate onto our platform to do that. So we reallywant to to bookend the needs of these kids from the early stage intervention,help with the families right through to their adult life. But right now, wehave so many resources. So that’s the big vision. But right now that the focusis on helping families with that early intervention to get that care rightaway, in a very easy to use easy to understand platform, you know, that’s thatfits within any budget, and something so they can just get get going and getand get something in place and see some progress right away. So there’s somehope for them that my child is not going to be nonverbal forever we can we havea path to get there with our platform.

Vincent Dela Luna  

I love I love that vision, like right now. It’s designed to helpchildren, and then young teens learn how to function in the world. And thenyour your later vision is literally the potential to give them work experiencein a safe environment where they don’t feel overwhelmed, overloaded, stressedout, in a familiar virtual world, they can actually, perhaps try out differentjobs, so that they can see which one suits them.

Bill Macdonald  

Absolutely so so to either to provide educational therapy in anurturing environment, in a safe space for them where they’re comfortable, todo the same on a vocational training platform. So they can do that in thatenvironment where, where it’s something that by then they’ve certainly becomefamiliar with. And it’s a safe space and, and it’s something where, where theycan really realize their potential without having to deal with with theexternal outside world interaction right away. So they can, they can ease intothis. So they can really get the best chance possible to succeed at whateverthat task might be.

Vincent Dela Luna  

It must be very exciting to be at the forefront of a technology asit changes the world. You know the world is changing to META.

Bill Macdonald  

Yeah, I can’t really see a lot of a lot of other companies out there that they’re doing it in this space. You’ve got educational software companies, educational hardware companies, but I really don’t see any that are bringing those together and bringing those together to to assist the the neurodivergent community because of because of the founders, because that’s, that’s where we’re coming from. And that’s our background. So hopefully it’s the right set of circumstances for us and for the industry and for the participants that we are leading edge on this. And hopefully that changes lives, changes opportunities, changes a lot of things going forward.

Vincent Dela Luna  

Yeah, that’s powerful.  Using technology, and the future and, you know, children on the spectrum lovetechnology.

Karen Simmons  

Oh yeah.

Vincent Dela Luna  

Like my two kids just live in it.

Karen Simmons  

Mine do too.

Bill Macdonald  

Yeah, well, the lightbulb certainly went off when you’ve got my boyon the spectrum. And he’s having either his phone or his iPad, and he’sinteractive on that is interactive on that way more than he is in a person toperson, face to face context. So they learn or they can certainly relate muchmore better and a virtual or online environment. So let’s just take it to thenext level, let’s really create immersive environments like that, that theyhave more ability to interact, and more ability to engage in therapy andeducation, and do it on their terms, right. So they can do it in whatevercapacity, whatever it is that they want to do, instead of here’s your hour oftherapy. Because that the system is going to make you pay for an hour oftherapy. These these kids, no kids operate in hour increments, right, it’s just,you’re gonna get out of that hour, you’re gonna get five minutes, 10 minutes ofbenefit out of that, but but the system makes you pay for now.  How about we make a system that works withthe needs of the kids, instead of championing the kids into the needs of thesystem, because that’s what the system is. So and that, and that, to me is oneof the things that really resonated about our platform is you can use it asmuch as you like, you can use it as a primary tool or a support tool, you asyou can do it in whatever increments you like throughout the day or the week,whatever fits for your schedule and your child. And however they need it towork for them. Instead of here’s your scheduled time, here’s your scheduledhour, let’s do what we can. And then and then after that scheduled hour it’s,well, you know what we’ll get feedback to you whenever they get around togiving the feedback to you, instead of with our platform where all thatfeedback on the interaction. And the data that we’re gathering is getting analyzed,immediately is getting uploaded to the cloud. And our artificial intelligenceis analyzing that data for where they were they were they’re meeting themilestones where they need to improve how they’re proceeding through themodule. And that gets fed back right away. So there’s no inefficiencies therewith the human component of analyzing therapy data and getting back. And oncewe can do that, as as they go. So we can have a nice consistent path throughthrough our modules. That’s nice and efficient. And, and it’s, you know,objective, in the sense that, you know, here’s, here’s all the big data thatwe’re taking in. And we can actually use, you know, that evidence for evidencebased analytics for where they should go next, or what they should repeat, orwhat they need to work on. So that was another thing that resonated with meabout how they can make that an efficient, effective process with the analyticsof the data, because now the technology can do that, in a virtual realityenvironment, the data input that we can take is monstrous. And we can analyzethat and feed that back in a real time environment, and just make it a moreefficient, effective process.

Vincent Dela Luna  

And what I also see, it gives you and your partnership with Alexgreat strength is very similar to what gives the Autism Today Foundationstrength in our partnership. And that’s that I’ve got children 10 and 12. Rightearlier in age, Karen’s children on the spectrum around 30. So we’re focusednot on one period of life, but the entire transition of life. And you’ve got anage difference between Alex’s kids and your kids. So as you start with theimportance of early intervention, and what you can do to help them get to theirmilestones, you don’t lose focus on Well, what do we need at this age? What dowe need to transitioning to adulthood? And how do we how can we use what we’vegot to help that? And I think having both you and Alex on this platform is agreat guide to where to take it to the next level.

Karen Simmons  

It’s really powerful. It’s good to have that perspective. It reallyis. I wish I would have had somebody that was older than me, you know, to seewhat the vision might be when I first started out. So I think it’s reallypowerful to have that different perspective.

Bill Macdonald  

Well, I think your vision is fantastic in the industry needs thatspot to go to have access to the information and then one stop spot to go,because you know, when I got my diagnosis, similar to a lot of parents aroundthat time is, here’s your diagnosis. Here’s, here’s a handful of brochures,figure it out.  I guess that was how itworked.  But you’re just you’re castadrift, and then you’re scrambling, you’re obviously you’re in a major panic,you know, your life, and the life of your child has just changed forever. Nowyou’re planning to the end of his life not to the end of your life. So you wantto do the right thing? Well, you want to do all the resources available, butyou don’t know what they are. They just give you a bunch of…

Karen Simmons  

There were 34 books when I started… 34

Bill Macdonald  

… so having a spotlight like autism today, where you hit whereyou can be directed to those resources, and then we can be one of theresources. So you can actually go go down and an efficient one stop shop, findthe answers, or find what questions to even ask, because you don’t know whatyou don’t know. So we can go somewhere and get that information. Instead ofthis scattergun approach that we had, trying to see what was out there and whatmight work and what might not. And, and that was so so frustrating. So justhaving having that source that you guys are going to provide is very, veryhelpful to the entire community.

Vincent Dela Luna  

We love we love meeting people like you, like Alex, aligned parentslike ourselves, where the love for the child and the passion for changing theworld to make it better to receive our children is what is the driving force tomaking the world a better place. And I think that’s, that’s how the worldbecomes better. Year after year, generation after generation people likeyourself, thank you very much for what you’re doing.

Karen Simmons  

Thank you, Bill.

Vincent Dela Luna  

I wish you all the best.

Bill Macdonald  

My pleasure. And we don’t want to reinvent things, right? We justwant to do it better, more efficiently, make it more accessible, you know, wejust want to do a better job for these kids and their families. You know…

Karen Simmons  

Faster!

Bill Macdonald  

… as do you guys like we just we can all do a better job as acommunity to help these kids realize their potential.

Vincent Dela Luna  

Technology has evolved. It’s changed. We need to use it to help ourkids that are learning this new technology, you know, so you’re doing a greatjob. Thank you very much.

Bill Macdonald  

Oh, my pleasure.

Vincent Dela Luna  

Thanks for joining us at Autism Today.

Karen Simmons  

Yes.  Thank you.

Bill Macdonald  

I’m honored to be a part of it. And…

Karen Simmons  

I’m honored to have you

Bill Macdonald  

… and best of luck and, yeah, I look forward to continuing on. Okay. All right. Thanks.