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Home > Channel > Bill Macdonald, Co-Founder of Akiva Metaverse, Chairman of the Canucks Autism Network

Bill Macdonald, Co-Founder of Akiva Metaverse, Chairman of the Canucks Autism Network

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. 

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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. 

 

Your pace, your way, on your time. Check out the I Am Akiva Trailer here or better yet, Click Here to take advantage of the Limited Time 50% discount offered exclusively through Autism Today. 

Transcript:

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 Aiden is 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 son on 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 was that we can, we can make this a much, much better system process path for these kids and their families with the outpush of the right technology. So we can make it more cost effective, more accessible, more consistent, better early intervention, and continuity of care as they grow in our system. And our platform goes with it. So I was just so the short story is I was just lucky to meet the right guy at the right time, with a similar story with a similar vision, but he was able to implement it. And I’ve luckily been the co founder and going along for the ride and trying to grow the project with him. And now we’re at a very exciting tipping point and getting to the market and getting to help 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 future of Akiva? 

 

Bill Macdonald   

Well, I think the plan is that there’s really no no limit to it. So the plan now is to really have a resource for families when they get that initial diagnosis and their and their cast adrift. And where do I go? What do I do? What resources do I have?  We want to at least be something that they can plug into easily, quickly, readily cost efficient, so they can get get speech therapy, get get beat behavioral therapy, get some of those early intervention things going? While they may be building up their home team and building up the therapist system, and all those things that take time, I think time and cost and there’s inefficiencies, and you never know how long it’s going to take when when you could be doing something right away. And what we’re starting with us with Akiva that may start that right away, but it’s going to evolve with your child. So it’s not something that’s just 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 grow with the child, all the way through, ideally, them into the teens and young adults, and needing help on social emotional side, vocational training, potentially helping with employers integrate onto our platform to do that. So we really want 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, we have so many resources. So that’s the big vision. But right now that the focus is on helping families with that early intervention to get that care right away, in a very easy to use easy to understand platform, you know, that’s that fits within any budget, and something so they can just get get going and get and get something in place and see some progress right away. So there’s some hope for them that my child is not going to be nonverbal forever we can we have a path to get there with our platform. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

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

 

Bill Macdonald   

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

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

It must be very exciting to be at the forefront of a technology as it 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 love technology.  

 

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 boy on the spectrum. And he’s having either his phone or his iPad, and he’s interactive on that is interactive on that way more than he is in a person to person, face to face context. So they learn or they can certainly relate much more better and a virtual or online environment. So let’s just take it to the next level, let’s really create immersive environments like that, that they have more ability to interact, and more ability to engage in therapy and education, and do it on their terms, right. So they can do it in whatever capacity, whatever it is that they want to do, instead of here’s your hour of therapy. Because that the system is going to make you pay for an hour of therapy. 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 of benefit out of that, but but the system makes you pay for now.  How about we make a system that works with the needs of the kids, instead of championing the kids into the needs of the system, because that’s what the system is. So and that, and that, to me is one of the things that really resonated about our platform is you can use it as much as you like, you can use it as a primary tool or a support tool, you as you 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 to work for them. Instead of here’s your scheduled time, here’s your scheduled hour, 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 to giving the feedback to you, instead of with our platform where all that feedback on the interaction. And the data that we’re gathering is getting analyzed, immediately is getting uploaded to the cloud. And our artificial intelligence is analyzing that data for where they were they were they’re meeting the milestones where they need to improve how they’re proceeding through the module. And that gets fed back right away. So there’s no inefficiencies there with the human component of analyzing therapy data and getting back. And once we can do that, as as they go. So we can have a nice consistent path through through 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 that we’re taking in. And we can actually use, you know, that evidence for evidence based analytics for where they should go next, or what they should repeat, or what they need to work on. So that was another thing that resonated with me about how they can make that an efficient, effective process with the analytics of the data, because now the technology can do that, in a virtual reality environment, the data input that we can take is monstrous. And we can analyze that and feed that back in a real time environment, and just make it a more efficient, effective process. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

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

 

Karen Simmons   

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

 

Bill Macdonald   

Well, I think your vision is fantastic in the industry needs that spot 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 around that time is, here’s your diagnosis. Here’s, here’s a handful of brochures, figure it out.  I guess that was how it worked.  But you’re just you’re cast adrift, 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. Now you’re planning to the end of his life not to the end of your life. So you want to do the right thing? Well, you want to do all the resources available, but you 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 where you can be directed to those resources, and then we can be one of the resources. So you can actually go go down and an efficient one stop shop, find the answers, or find what questions to even ask, because you don’t know what you don’t know. So we can go somewhere and get that information. Instead of this scattergun approach that we had, trying to see what was out there and what might work and what might not. And, and that was so so frustrating. So just having having that source that you guys are going to provide is very, very helpful to the entire community. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

We love we love meeting people like you, like Alex, aligned parents like ourselves, where the love for the child and the passion for changing the world to make it better to receive our children is what is the driving force to making the world a better place. And I think that’s, that’s how the world becomes better. Year after year, generation after generation people like yourself, 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 just want to do it better, more efficiently, make it more accessible, you know, we just 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 a community to help these kids realize their potential. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

Technology has evolved. It’s changed. We need to use it to help our kids that are learning this new technology, you know, so you’re doing a great job. 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. 

Vincent Dela Luna
Thank you very much.

Karen Simmons
Thank you. Thanks, Elaine. Bye bye.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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