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Technology Aids Autistic Students to Speak


Travis Pilcher, 20, has stayed silent most of his life. His teachers didn’t know how to assist this severely autistic student of theirs. Even his parents were tired of his constant mood swings and aggression.

However, three years ago, Travis’ world changed. He was chosen by the Fort Worth school district and as an experiment, he was equipped with an iPad. As he swiped the symbols on the iPad screen, the text got converted to speech. Travis mimicked the sounds he heard to communicate with his parents.

Micheal Plicher, Travis’ father says, “It was a 180-degree change. He’s not aggressive anymore.”

Travis is just one of those 50 students with autism, Down Syndrome and other challenges, who use an iPad to communicate at Boulevard Heights Alternative School. Debbie Manning, a speech language pathologist at the school, says that children who never really had any social skills are using iPads to break their silence. “We have students … we’ve never heard utter a sound, they’re beginning to vocalize and make word approximations. It’s been more than a miracle,” Manning says.

Last month, the Fort Worth school board had insisted the purchase of 130 additional iPads since the programme has become a success. Speech language therapist Kellie Cullen says, “Most of our students, especially students with autism, have good motor skills, vision and hearing skills, so they can utilize an iPad. It’s been a total game changer for us. We’re talking about a shift in the culture here.”

Many other students with special needs have also been benefitted from the usage of iPads. 21 year old Valerie Godines, who has Down Syndrome is an example. Her mother, Maria Godines says, “She’s communicating more. There are still things I don’t understand, but with the iPad, she tells us what she wants and what she needs.”

Use of iPads by the nonverbal students with special needs has been providing promising results. As a result, non-profit organizations have started collecting money in various regions to help students with special needs own an iPad.

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