Troy, Magnus, and the ROM: The Road to Independence

Posted: November 6, 2015 - 10:19 , by Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen

Did you know that an estimated 1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum? Individuals with autism experience the world differently, and bustling cultural attractions like the ROM can be overwhelming for some of them. We want to improve that experience, and provide the tools necessary to help ensure that a visit to our museum inspires wonder and nurtures discovery, regardless of how you experience the world.

The ROM is proud to announce that we are partnering with Magnusmode, Autism Ontario and Easter Seals Canada to create the ROM MagnusCards Decks. These digital app-based cards are designed to teach valuable life skills to individuals with autism, by breaking down tasks into its component steps and providing information needed to prepare for the tasks.

We’ll have more information soon pending the successful completion of preliminary research and user testing. Stay tuned, the ROM and Magnusmode aim to launch the pilot phase of the program in January 2016, with two card decks that outline the Entry and Ticketing Experience as well as a Dinosaur Gallery Tour.

This project all began with a woman’s love for her younger brother, and her desire to help him navigate the world as an active, independent adult. Nadia Hamilton is the founder of Magnusmode. Read on for her story.

A Guest Post by Nadia Hamilton

Portrait of Magnusmode founder Nadia Hamilton and her brother Troy.
Magnusmode founder Nadia Hamilton and her brother Troy

My brother Troy and I walked out of Museum Station and headed towards the Royal Ontario Museum. As we got closer, a Tyrannosaurus-Rex flashed us its menacing, movie star grin from roadside banners. Troy’s steps quickened and his hands flapped with increased anticipation. He knew that he would soon come face to face with the king of all ‘terrible-lizards’. He bounced through the door of the ROM, ready to commune with his favourite fossiled friends.

My brother is a young man with autism. He experiences the world differently, and his personal interests always seemed to have a certain mystery about them. We may never know why he likes certain things, but what we know for certain is that his unique interests fill him with pure, incandescent happiness.

This happiness was greatly diminished when Troy graduated from high school. After school, it’s entirely up to parents (and/or siblings!) to support family members. I take Troy to movies, restaurants, and museums. I show him where to go and what to do in environments that can be otherwise confusing. I love my brother, but the simple fact is I will not always be around to guide him through life. Neither will my parents. There are thousands of families across Canada facing the deafening reality of life after the final school bell.

That’s why I started Magnusmode, a social venture that leverages technology to help people with autism and other cognitive special needs to live actively and independently in their communities. Our first mobile application, MagnusCards, is the ultimate life hack, with collectible Card Decks presenting visual, step by step instructions for taking the bus, going to a movie, going to museums and many more life skills. A whimsical wizard named Magnus gives rewards for practicing and mastering each skill.

Magnusmode envisions a world where people like Troy are empowered to navigate every public space. The Card Decks are a bridge to the community and our Card Deck partners (community organizations/corporations that make custom Card Decks) see the value of the tool as a way to create more inclusive environments that are comfortable and welcoming to people with cognitive special needs.

The Royal Ontario Museum was a perfect partner to engage in creating Card Decks. The ROM can be a very overwhelming and confusing experience for someone like Troy, but, with these Card Decks the museum can have the structure he needs to fully enjoy it. It is only fitting that the first Card Deck we create together is how to navigate the ‘Dino Tour’.

Troy and I often walk through the Dinosaur gallery – me in front, Troy a little bit behind me. I have always dreamed of the day when he would lead, or even go forward with confidence on his own. On our most recent visit, I turned around and asked him to point to his favourite Dinosaur. He looked thoughtfully around, smiled gleefully, and pointed up at the ‘king’ of the dinosaurs, the T-Rex.