Imagine being thrilled when your teenager asks you to “please be quiet.”
That’s how Jackie Cox felt when her 14-year-old daughter, Jasmine, interrupted a conversation she was having with Jasmine’s speech therapist, Claire Francin. Choosing images of the words, Jasmine tapped her message on an iPad, one of many new assistive devices now being used at Aspire Kids to help children with autism and other developmental disabilities communicate better.
“No one likes a sassy teenager,” says Jackie. “But it was good to see her doing something typical for her age. It brought me to tears.”
Jasmine stopped talking when she was 15 months old and soon after was diagnosed with autism and severe speech delay. At the time, Jackie enrolled her toddler in services for children up to three years old at Aspire Children’s Services. Eleven years later, Jackie read about Aspire’s new assistive technology program in Aspire’s bi-yearly newsletter Aspirations and brought Jasmine in for an evaluation.
“Jasmine has a lot of language, but it is hard for her to express herself,” explains Francin. “Conversations make her feel anxious and frustrated.”
It is common for children and teens on the autism spectrum to struggle with communication. Like Jasmine, they tend to be visual learners and are attracted to engaging technology, such as television and computers. At home, Jasmine surfs the Internet easily, without training or help. She enjoys looking at clothes online, playing games on the Disney Channel website and watching Justin Bieber music videos. She recently found her house and neighborhood on Google Earth.
High technology assistive devices are now opening up new ways for Jasmine and children with similar challenges to express themselves and be understood. Plus these electronic and computerized tools are easy-to-use, exciting and fun for everyone.
“When Jasmine uses the iPad and other interactive devices, they help her organize her thoughts and things become mapped out,” says Francin, her therapist. “She grasps what she wants to say.”
During an Aspire therapy visit, Jasmine arrives dressed in jeans, a striped hoodie and fun sneakers. She is happy to be there. Jasmine comfortably switches from one application to another on the iPad. She uses both the keyboard and graphic images to get her message across. Jackie, thrilled with her daughter’s progress in the past year, reports Jasmine is not only putting together complete sentences on the iPad, but also reading them aloud.
“It is amazing how kids, from toddlers to teenagers, can pick up these devices and immediately know what to do with them,” says Francin.
Eventually, assistive devices can support Jasmine’s communication skills in school and out in the community, giving the teenager more independence. “When we go to a restaurant, I have to ask and answer questions for Jasmine,” says Jackie. “With a device, she will be able to order for herself and tell the waiter things like ‘I don’t want ketchup.’”
“We want Jasmine to use these new tools as she wishes to,” Francin adds. “As she gets more comfortable with them, Jasmine will see how powerful it is for her to express herself without help from others.