Two years ago, on the way home from work, Rimon receives a phone call from his wife telling him that Yuval, who was 19 at the time, ran away from home again, but this time took his phone with him. Rimon calls him and when Yuval answers he says: "Dad, it’s amazing here, I’m feeding the giraffe."
Rimon recalculates his route, trying to figure out where Yuval is, while on the line Yuval asks if he can pet the rhino, and that he sees a sign for the lion's cage. While Rimon hurries to Yuval he calms him down and gently guides him away from the area of the animals.
When he gets to the safari, he gently asks Yuval what happened and Yuval answers simply - “I wanted to hug a zebra”.
Even the frightened guard who was initially angry at the unauthorized entry could not remain indifferent to Yuval's sweetness and innocence, and decided to take them on a tour with the jeep to see the zebras, and again - Yuval profited from his uniqueness and traveled with the zebras.
At this moment Rimon realized that the challenges of autism are so great, that he will give everything he can bring to the table after 25 years in high-tech to find solutions and help with the challenges of autism - he will utilize his knowledge of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation and dedicate everything to finding a meaningful solution.
There are very big differences in autism - "you saw one autistic person - you only saw one", there is a very wide spectrum and a large variety of manifestations.
They make up about 2% of the population, 200K in Israel, 200M in the world, not everyone is diagnosed.
There are at least 4 people close to them who are affected by it, which means there are a billion people that this issue touches and is meaningful to.
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that is commonly described by levels of functioning.
At a low level of functioning there can be a child who will live in an institution for the rest of his life and will need close supervision, and an example of a very high level of functioning is Elon Musk.
People with autism experience everything 1000 times stronger - whether it’s in sensory regulation, or whether it’s in a sense of loneliness.
Autism is an invisible disability - you don’t always recognize the people who are high functioning, there are those who are completely independent, there are those who are in dormitories and all kinds of other institutes, and many fall between the cracks and don’t know what to name what they feel and experience.
In the case of Yuval, Rimon's son, this notion has come to the surface since he was born, but as parents, they didn't care of what the definition was, until the school talked to them about giving Yuval an assistant, which required diagnosis. And so, Yuval was diagnosed with autism when he was 8 years old.
The diagnosis gave them access to tools and advice they didn’t have before, but Rimon says that in one sentence - it’s about loving him as much as possible, and pushing him as high as possible. Rimon says that every day he says to Yuval:
“infinity and one more infinity together, are little compared to how much I love you, and Yuval smiles his amazing smile every time in return."
As part of that, it also means not giving up on him and allowing him to aim for the stars - in Yuval's case it was a triathlon he did a few months after he was diagnosed. Beyond the physical challenge we all know about strenuous sports activity, Yuval had another completely different set of challenges - sensory regulation. Putting a shirt on a wet body for example, was a much bigger challenge for him than the cycling itself. At the age of 9, Yuval had already circled Lake Kinneret by bicycle.
Being a parent to a child with autism
When I asked Rimon what it means to be a parent of a child with autism, he shared that first and foremost - life is unpredictable. You don’t know if today it will be more stormy or calm, you are constantly in a state of uncertainty.
The ability to ask the environment to contain and understand him and to see how the environment responds is also a complex thing. It’s easy to say nice sounding words, but when people encounter behavior that they didn’t expect and that is not necessarily comfortable for them - that’s the real test.
As a parent, Rimon shares that the very awareness and inclusion of autism gives you a tremendous capacity for acceptance and inclusion even beyond autism -
"It's a school for life. I sometimes talk to my wife about what we would have done if we didn't have an autistic child. I would have had a quiet life, but I wouldn’t live with all the richness and intensity of the emotions - Yuval's force is contagious. When he once asked me - Dad, how far are you willing to go for me? I just ordered tickets to climb the Kilimanjaro."
The dream of climbing the Kilimanjaro has accompanied Rimon for many years. As a teenager he was a water polo player, an outstanding athlete. In the army he served in the Givati Brigade and after three years of service in the operational team he fell and was unable to move his arms and legs. Tests revealed he had 7 herniated discs, one at an extreme level and must be operated on. At 21, he found himself in an operating room with a 10%+ chance of being paralyzed. After the surgery in the recovery room he manages to move his little finger and decides that the fact that he is able to do so now is enough - from that point he’s going to succeed.
The first couple years were difficult for him because he had to avoid sports activities, but after a few years he was back to competing in triathlons. One of his friends in the triathlon team has leg amputation, and together they dreamed of climbing the Kilimanjaro mountain, which connected to his promise to Yuval. Rimon describes the happiness of climbing up the mountain with his best friend, "Every step is just pure fun" - after five days they reached the top, but on the way down a big blizzard started. Rimon decided to go down Kilimanjaro on foot - he started running in the snow - he had 50 km and 500 meters to pass in 24 hours. After a few hours he collapses in the snow from exhaustion, calling for the porters to take him down. In the minutes it took them to get to him, Rimon made a brain shift, so when they arrived he said thank you very much for coming, and invited them to accompany him on foot - because he wanted to continue. On the way down he felt at every step as if he had a knife stuck in each leg, but this feeling that he was always able to take one more step despite the pain - and then another one, was one of the biggest lessons he learned in life.
The climb to Kilimanjaro with Yuval is already in the planning.
From weakness to pride
In high-tech and startups the pace is high and the demands as well, and alongside that at home there is a higher intensity and uncertainty than usual. There were many years that Yuval would come to Rimon’s work at noon and play there.
One of the parents must be with the child more, or some assistance needs to be given - Rimon shares that at some point it tore him apart. This was one of the reasons he established Hackautism, so that he could spend more time with Yuval.
In the first Hackathon Yuval participated as an entrepreneur, gave his pitch and won as the crowd’s favorite - he wanted to create zebra farms, because he believes zebras are like children with autism - they are said to be beautiful and no one plays with them.
Rimon shares that as a parent of a child with autism you can be anti to the fact that it takes you out of the comfort zone, or flow with the change - Rimon chooses to flow with it fully.
In Hackautism he sees the phenomenon of lots of parents coming in with a certain shame, from a place where they feel like it’s a weakness, and through doing and being active participants they are filled with pride and begin to present themselves as - the father / mother of. Instead of hiding it, it becomes a source for pride. It's a matter of point of view. The wisdom with life is not necessarily to change reality, but the way we see it.
Autism in the work world
Today, less than half of people with autism are employed, even in positions that they can be good at. Although we noted that each manifestation of autism varies from one person to another, I asked Rimon - how can we pay attention and be sensitive when we work alongside someone with autism? These were the main points:
-Talk to them at eye level and be aware of their personal needs: some will want to work in the dark, some quietly, some will want to be with people. It’s important to be aware of their individual needs
- Understand that everything is amplified for them - if the boss shouts, they experience it 1000 times more. If an employee feels loneliness and lack of belonging - the loneliness resonates 1000 times more for someone with autism
-Regularity - Many times they have things that need to be done in their very particular way. We need to see when it's ok and allow it, even if I would have done it differently.
It also has benefits - a lot of people with autism are good at repetitive activities and tasks, which fits in great with the data science industry.
- Pay attention to the judgment that arises in us - we don’t know what’s really happening and have no background, and so - we should pay attention to automatic thoughts that arise in us, and from this awareness put in more attention and sensitivity in the second thought.
One of their entrepreneurs from the previous cycle, Gilad, the founder of Snowflakes, noticed that his nephew who has autism was standing at the end of the film for the end credits. So, on his birthday, as part of his birthday wishes video he edited for him, he put in the closing captions, and for the first time, the nephew who never spoke to him wrote a thank you message.
At that moment he realized that people with autism have different viewing patterns, and started analyzing it.
He discovered that thanks to the information he discovered, he knows how to produce a series of filters that are tailored to people with autism, and those can be applied to existing content. Today all the content on channel Kan is accessible to people with autism thanks to this product.
For Yuval, for example, thanks to the filters that can turn news into cartoons, he can connect to more content for the first time.
He also expanded the solution for the visually impaired. And today, from hardware to software, any screen can be customized.
Another venture with a lot of hope that was their winner this year is - "Ladaat".
The venture was created to diagnose autism at an early age in a much simpler way. The price for an official diagnosis today is $ 1000-2000, and not everyone can afford it. They want to build a kit that can diagnose autism by examining eye movements and EEG, which could be done anywhere in the world and at a much more affordable price.
When I asked Rimon what he wishes for himself and Hackautism, he replied that the goal is to do the Hackathon in 200 countries simultaneously at the world level with the support of the UN, and to create for them the possibility of implementing and presenting the projects at the world level.
And from the place of Yuval's personal dream that started it all - he dreams of building a special place for him, with animals, agriculture and therapy, and for that to happen he wants to push forward the innovative entrepreneurial activity.