Via Services is exploring whether products such as Apple's iPad and iPod Touch are potential game- changers for parents with children living with disabilities, including autism, mental retardation, Down syndrome and other special needs.
The Santa Clara-based nonprofit agency, which caters to families with special needs children and adults, held a workshop this month at its Via West Campus in the Cupertino foothills to let special needs parents know about the ins and outs of using mobile devices to help social and developmental skills.
Via Services is attracted to the myriad of uses and applications provided by such devices. Event speaker Danielle Samson, a speech and language pathologist for Peninsula Associates, said many applications available for mobile devices such as the iPad can help the poor or nonexistent communication skills of those with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and early communication deficits.
Samson provided an overview of the technical and educational aspects of the iPad and iPod Touch, while Shannon Des Roches Rosa discussed their use in the home for children with disabilities. Des Roches Rosa's 10-year-old son Leo has severe autism and has found the iPad to be liberating since the family received one in May.
"It has been a tremendous positive force in his life, not just for independence in general but in regard to learning and entertainment," Des Roches Rosa said. "It has not changed everything in life, but it has made many things remarkably better. He is showing us these skills that he could not otherwise demonstrate because he now has access to the right tools. The flexibility is astounding."
Samson has been using the mobile devices in her therapy sessions with clients.
"I see a bigger interest in what I am asking kids to do. They are intrigued and want to participate," she said. "The interest level has gone up, and to them [the iPad] is much more interesting than a worksheet or writing something on a piece of paper or looking at photo cards."
Samson adds that the iPad and iPod Touch's highly visual nature and use of a simple touchscreen, rather than a laptop and keyboard, is of great help to children with severe motor difficulties or no writing skills.
"A lot of these children cannot spell, so a keyboard is not going to do them any good," she said. "With a touchscreen, you have a different connection, rather than the disconnect of a mouse or cursor."
Samson said there are numerous applications on the market that help those with minimal communication skills. Proloquo2Go, for example, uses visual cues and buttons to allow the iPad or similar devices to speak for them.
To improve social skills and literacy, a program called Stories2Learn lets users create a series of quick personalized visual, text and verbal stories to better prepare children for what to expect through the use of story arcs.
Des Roches Rosa used the application to help Leo lower his anxiety for a boat trip and learn the names of extended family members before a family get-together. She also creates visual to-do lists to help Leo remember important daily events and milestones.
Des Roches Rosa recently found a geography application that lets Leo learn the 50 states by putting the U.S. map together through an interactive puzzle. The family uses about 150 different applications, with about 40 favorites.
Chris Pierce, director of Via West Campus, hopes these devices can lead to developmental breakthroughs and easier lives for parents with special need children.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for what they endure on a daily basis," he said. "We are really at the beginning stages of what [iPad] can do for our clients. This is such a dramatic comment, but it really is magical. It really is a revolutionary device."
Samson cautioned that while the devices have much flexibility, it may not fit all needs.
"This is really excellent technology, but it does not work for everybody. I don't want [parents] to run out and buy it. They need to see how it fits their needs before they jump on the bandwagon," she said. "It really depends on the applications that you choose and the physical limitations of the children and what they can and cannot do."
Via Services is developing curriculum for future use as part of parent and child workshops and classes at the Via West Campus. A curriculum by Pierce is in the works, and there are tentative plans to acquire enough tablets so that they can be checked out by Via West clients for home use.
Dean Monroe, Via Services' director of advancement, estimates that the organization will have to raise somewhere between $10,000 to $20,000 for the iPads (or similar tablet computers), counselor training and appropriate accessories. The iPad was released in the last spring and its most basic model currently sells for $499, according to Apple's website.
"We will be aggressive here about reaching out to donors very soon," Monroe said.
The workshop brought out about 150 people, the vast majority of which were parents. Monroe said an e-mail was sent in early December and the workshop quickly filled up with interested people.
"We turned away probably 25 from the one e-mail as we were already at capacity and if we had the space to invite more I am guessing we could have hit 300 attendees," Monroe said in an e-mail. "The thirst for info about these devices for parents of children with autism and other disabilities is overwhelming."
Friday, January 21, 2011
California program teaches parents how to use iPad, iTouch to aid communication development of kids with disabilities
The Mercury-News in San Jose, Calif.:
Posted by BA Haller at 10:21 AM