The iPad spoke aloud for Dylan. “Toy train!”
Dylan touched the screen again. “Toy train!”
Although Dylan Smith, 10, cannot speak, he is learning how to communicate.
So is Austin Porter.
Austin and his mom, Alicia Miner, sat on Austin’s bedroom floor building a long chain with colored plastic links. The game helps Austin practice fine motor skills, colors and numbers. The iPad on his lap helps Austin speak. He used his iPad and an app to tell his mom what link color he wanted next:
Miner handed her son a red link. He added it to his chain.
Then he used his iPad to tell his mom: “I want rice snacks.”
“What else do you say?” she asked.
Austin looked up from his links, grinned, and turned to the tablet.
“I want rice snacks, please.”
Austin and Dylan are nonverbal children on the autism spectrum. That makes communication challenging. But new technology now being deployed locally is providing new successes for Austin, Dylan, and many other children like them. Though communication may always be difficult for them, it offers a new avenue for learning and living.
After Dylan used his tablet to ask for his favorite engine in his Thomas the Tank Engine train set, he took Percy, the green train, from his dad and set it on the track. The train took off.
So did Dylan. Head uplifted, he smiled, squealed and jumped.
“That’s his happy dance,” said his dad, smiling.
A new voice
The new digital technology isn’t the first attempt to bridge the gap between parent or teacher and nonverbal child. Earlier, both boys communicated using Velcro-backed pictures attached to a book. Although the Picture Exchange Communication System did help them communicate that they were thirsty, for instance, getting the message across was too often cumbersome and frustrating.
“Before the iPad, there was a whole lot of screeching, screaming, crying,” said his Dylan’s mom, Teayona Smith. “We were trying to use PECS, which are pictures of objects like food items, favorite toys Velcroed to a board. He would bring us the photo of what he wanted. And then he received whatever it was. It was very difficult to go out into public because you can’t carry that many pictures with you.”