Eichenwald, right, 9, works on his iPad while
Functional Communication teacher Danielle Skala
helps Eshan Arefin, 8, work with his iPad at
Forest North Elementary School on Thursday May 8,
2014, in Austin, Texas.
Texas — Jaime Morin, 9, was diagnosed with autism at
age 2 and has been nonverbal his whole life. When the
therapy he was receiving at school became insufficient,
his mother, Lupe Santander, sent him to Big Sky
Pediatric Therapy, where he went for speech and
occupational therapy once a week. It was there that they
heard of Zach’s Voice, a nonprofit group that provides
iPads to autistic children with communication
can say exactly what he wants with the iPad," says
Santander. "When he first figured it out, the look
on his face was priceless. We could finally understand
him, we didn’t have to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ when
he pointed to things."
children with autism who are nonverbal cannot talk, the
thoughts occupying their heads are unable to come out
— that’s where the iPad comes in. Through the
application of their choice, the children can form
sentences by putting together words, which come in the
form of buttons and a picture to match the word. Then,
they play it back for others to hear. The iPad becomes
facilitates their understanding of the world around
them," says Danielle Skala, functional
communication classroom teacher at Forest North
Elementary in the Round Rock Independent School
District. She has a few students who use iPads in her
Voice became an official organization last May, giving
out their first iPad the month before. Their mission is
to provide iPads to children ages 3 to 21 with autism
spectrum disorder who have communication disabilities.
They take iPad donations from the community, as well as
money donations to use toward buying refurbished iPads.
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
pilot program took place in the 2013 spring semester in
Texas with the Round Rock school district, and they have
since expanded to include schools in the Georgetown
Voice was founded by Abby Whitworth, who named the
organization after her 7-year-old son. Whitworth was
inspired by Zach’s initial interaction with the iPad.
Prior to the Apple product, he used DynaVox, a heavy
device that was hard to program, Whitworth said. Besides
being clunky, it also drew attention to him. With an
iPad, however, he blends in.
the coolest kids in school," says Skala. "The
iPad gives them a social status."
particular incident at the grocery store prompted
Whitworth to spread the positive effects of the iPad to
other families with nonverbal kids in the community.
While shopping, she saw an autistic child walking around
with note cards, which he used to communicate. The
number of words available through this approach,
however, is limited.
iPad lets kids use all the words they want," says
Whitworth. "It’s an unlimited amount of options,
as opposed to what you get with handwritten note
picture books and note cards, I got to decide what the
kids said," says Skala. "Now, the child
application recommended by Zach’s Voice is
ProLoQuo2Go, which costs $219.99 at the iTunes store.
The organization provides its recipients with a gift
card that covers the cost of whatever app they decide to
download. Jaime chose Lamp Words for Life, the program
he had been using with his therapist.
lets its users add words to the program, such as family
members’ names and their favorite cartoon characters.
Adding a button is instantaneous, and kids can customize
them by taking a picture of the word they add.
kids start off using the app to communicate about the
things they love," says Whitworth. "It’s
rewarding and motivates them to use the program."
Voice works with speech-language therapists at different
schools to find families who would benefit from the
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
the therapist finds a student that would be a good
candidate for a communication device, they contact
Hannah Markowitz, who works at the Round Rock district’s
Assistive Technology Team. After trying out the app with
the child, the speech-language therapist will decide
whether to recommend that the parents fill out an
application with the organization. Zach’s Voice only
takes applications identified as eligible by the school
district and requires the signatures of the parent,
classroom teacher and speech-language pathologist.
great that kids have access to the iPad at home and out
in their community," says Markowitz. "It gives
must promise to use the iPad strictly for the benefit of
the autistic child, and no other apps are allowed to be
downloaded. The idea is that the iPad is to be used as a
means to help the kid communicate and for no other
purpose. It becomes part of the child’s everyday
activity, just as essential as wearing shoes when they
leave the house.
iPad can do more than just help children with autism
communicate; sometimes it can facilitate them to talk.
talks now," Whitworth says. "It started six
months ago, about a year and a half after he first got
to a study done by Ann Kaiser, researcher at Vanderbilt
Peabody College of Education and Human Development in
Tennessee, children with autism who are minimally verbal
can "learn to speak later than previously thought,
and iPads are playing an increasing role in making that
happen." The speech-generating devices can
encourage children ages 5 to 8 to develop speaking
skills, Kaiser wrote.
speech also expanded since his first interaction with
the iPad. He has started to repeat sentences and words
after hearing them through the app. When he hears a
certain pronunciation, he tries to imitate it.
opens up their world, their voice can be heard,"
Santander says. "He’s not stuck in his little
body anymore. It has given him confidence."
iPad as a communication device also can relieve anxiety,
which is common in nonverbal kids with autism.
heard and understood can be a great source of relief for
our kids," Whitworth says.