, Salem, MA

Local News

June 28, 2013

iPads give autistic children a voice

DANVERS — You would never know young Ben Mover has autism by the way he plays with his toys and scoots about a conference room at Northeast Arc’s Autism Support Center.

At 21/2, when most children are putting sentences together, Ben can make sounds and give signals — he puts his hand on his chest when he wants something, for example — but he cannot speak.

In recent months, Ben has become a whiz with his iPad. He taps on pictures that announce which item he wants to play with from his toy medical kit.

A Band-Aid,” says the iPad when Ben touches a picture of one on the screen.

“What do we say?” his mother, Elizabeth Mover, asks.

“Ouch,” Ben touches the screen. “Ouch. A Band-Aid.”

To put more iPads in the hands of nonverbal children like Ben, George Harrington, the former owner of the downtown Salem restaurant The Lyceum, has launched an iPads for Autism campaign. Harrington, who is chairman of the effort, is a longtime supporter of Northeast Arc and is attempting to raise $150,000 to support the nonprofit’s Touch to Talk program.

This program would not only help buy iPads and special software, but hire specialists to train those like Ben and his family to use the devices effectively. Harrington’s campaign has already attracted a $75,000 grant from the Van Otterloo Family Foundation, and he has raised close to $100,000 so far.

Gloria Ricardi Castillo, the co-director of Northeast Arc’s Autism Support Center at 6 Southside Road, said the idea of using “an augmentative device like an iPad” is to help Ben communicate as he works with a speech and language pathologist.

About 25 percent of children with autism are nonverbal, she said. It is estimated that there are 3,000 kids who are nonverbal in Northeast Arc’s service area, and Ricardi Castillo said all of them could benefit from the Touch to Talk program.

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