by Reporter Katelyn J., Dunham Elementary
April is Autism Awareness month! Since I have some friends and relatives with autism, I decided to do an autism awareness project for my Bronze Award in Girl Scouts.
Autism means that a person has a brain problem that makes it hard to talk and socialize. About 1 in every 110 kids is affected by autism, but no one knows exactly what causes it.
Many people with autism can’t communicate without special help. Some use an augmentative communication device (“aug. comm.”), a machine that “talks” for them when they type in words or push picture buttons. But these devices are very pricey (as much as $9,000!) and tend to sound unnatural. A good way to handle this problem is to use an iPad loaded with special educational apps for speech (like an aug. comm.) PLUS social skills learning programs. There are games that you can download that help as well for teaching and motivation. Many people with autism are very visual learners and they like technology. iPads blend the love of technology with a creative educational tool in an everyday device. But even iPads aren’t cheap (about $500), and many families can’t afford one. The iCare for Autism Fund is a Tucson-based group that collects funds to buy iPads, load them with Autism-related applications and distribute them to families with children on the Autism Spectrum. “We want to help families that could not afford an iPad any other way,” say Andrea Graham and John Elliott, co-creators of iCare for Autism. Andrea and Mike Graham have seven children, three of them have autism.
Andrea shares that her three kids who have autism are all verbal, but when they get frustrated they lose their ability to communicate or express their feelings and needs.
There are programs on the iPad that allow them to tap a picture, which then says a phrase, or type a sentence that is spoken out loud for them. “When you know WHY someone is upset, it’s easier to help them solve their problem,” Andrea says. This enables their kids to communicate when it doesn’t come easy. “Also,” John adds, “carrying around an iPad doesn’t look strange. Kids with autism don’t want to look different, they want to fit in and to be cool. Traditional aug. comm. devices can make them feel odd.” After seeing their kids’ success with the iPad, the Grahams wanted other families to benefit as well. So they worked with their friend John to create this fund-raising program. Families who are interested in getting an iPad for their child with autism or those who want to make a donation can go online to iCareforAutism.org to download an application form or for more info. The iPads will be loaded with the programs best suited for each child based on his or her needs. As part of my service project, I’m making and donating autism awareness jewelry and accessories that the group can use to to raise funds.
If you have an iPad that needs to be set up, they recommend these apps: “PCS Vocab,” “Art of Glow,” “My Talk,” “Neo Paul” and “Proloquo.”