, Salem, MA

Local News

June 28, 2013

iPads give autistic children a voice


“You see children 12 to 14 years old, they have no verbal skills and no access to a device like that,” said Ricardi Castillo, who has a son with autism. He uses a voice output device to communicate. “It changed his life,” she said.

To see how Ben uses an iPad to communicate, all you have to do is ask him a question.

“What do you want to do?” asks the boy’s mom, a 29-year-old intensive care unit nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Ben reaches for an iPad touch tablet, encased in blue protective bumpers. He pushes on an image and the iPad chirps: “Bubbles.”

Ben makes an “o” sound.

Then he starts tapping out a primitive sentence, and the iPad says: “Little. Big. Blow. Get it.”

That means Ben wants to play with his bubbles and he wants his mom to open them. Soon, he’s filling the conference room with bubbles.

Ben was diagnosed with autism just over a year ago. Mover, who also has a 1-year-old son, Nathan, said she noticed that when Ben was 1, he wasn’t saying words but just kept babbling. He also did not play with kids his own age, preferring to be with adults. Her doctor said she should wait until Ben was a little older. The family saw a number of specialists, and a year ago, Ben began early intervention programs.

Most nonverbal children are taught to communicate using what is called a Picture Exchange Communication System, which uses binders full of pictures that a child can use to point to what they want, with the goal of eventually developing speech.

For Ben, the binders — which had pictures held by fabric fasteners — were fascinating, but for the wrong reasons.

“He just thought the Velcro was fun, taking them (the pictures) all off,” his mother said.

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