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Giving Autism a Voice: iPads help kids communicate

By Ted Land
Published On: May 22 2014 03:36:19 PM CDT
Updated On: May 22 2014 06:04:04 PM CDT

For some families, technology like an iPad is a tool and not a toy, and doctors say it's making a big difference in the lives of children with autism who are unable to communicate normally. WSBT's Ted Land has the story.

It can be a tough decision for parents – when to let kids play with technology, like an iPad.

For some families, though, it's not a toy, it's a tool, and doctors say it's making a remarkable difference for children with autism who aren't able to communicate like their classmates.

Eight-year-old Jackson Schalliol knows what he wants. He just hasn't always been able to ask.

Autism prevents Jackson from developing as quickly as other kids. For the longest time it halted his ability to utter more than just a few simple words.

But technology worth a few hundred dollars, which you can pick up at the mall, has changed so much.

“When we started 6 months ago he had no voice at all so watching him be able to do these things and interact this way is ginormous growth,” said Mary Schalliol, Jackson’s mom, watching him punch various word buttons on his iPad, which then speaks the words.

IPads, loaded with a handful of communication apps, are now an increasingly important tool in the treatment of kids like Jackson.

“They don't get to that point I call the ‘nuclear meltdown’ where all of a sudden everything is horribly overwhelming and they end up crying or having a fit,” said Dr. Carol Luzzi, a developmental pediatrician for Beacon Health System in South Bend.

They're so effective, Dr. Luzzi will loan iPads to her patients who don't already have one.

“They're hearing the articulation, the pronunciation correctly, the grammar is correct, it's in the first person, the children actually start to talk faster because they're using these apps,” she said.

Jackson was recently able to read a book at school and he had a line in a musical using his iPad.

“It’s wonderful because for a long time we didn't think he would have any type of voice, so this is his voice,” said Schalliol.

Jackson’s therapists say the device is not a replacement for his actual voice.

“It’s definitely a path to try to build towards verbal communication,” said Jammie Herendeen, Jackson’s occupational therapist.