Once upon a time, a mobile phone was a status symbol, a way to tell the world that you were so important that people had to be able to reach you all the time. Nowadays a mobile is a necessity, but we still like to have the latest model with features that can improve our daily life. Now; when you want to trade up you could be helping someone with Autism to communicate their basic needs and for the first time, truly express what they want. And the phone doesn’t even have to be working to help.
Autism is a developmental disability which typically affects social interaction, imagination and the ability to communicate. Half of all people diagnosed will have severely delayed speech and as a result; can become frustrated, leading to behavioral challenges and social exclusion.
In the past, these individuals could be taught to use picture exchange communication or “pecs” – a system of handing over a picture to request an item. Thus replacing that negative behaviour with a vocabulary of different pictures, all of which have a huge value to the individual. They are prompted to try to say each word and can slowly learn to speak independently with the picture system as support.
However, at least a 1/4 of all people diagnosed with Autism will have to use an alternative communication system for life, which can become very unwieldy as their vocabulary grows.
They must also rely on carers and therapists to update and maintain the system, so they never have independent control of what they want to say.
There are electronic picture devices, but the vocabulary is static, the devices bulky and expensive and the individual cannot express exactly what they want.
However, thanks to the development of a simple App, which recreates the picture system in a digital format, so called ‘non-verbal’ people can communicate exactly what they want on an Apple iPod or iPad. The Grace App, named after the little girl who inspired it is a basic picture vocabulary in a digital format which the user selects then shares to communicate what they want. Most importantly, they can actually add to their pictures themselves using the device camera, or google and save an image if they cannot find and photograph what they need.
Lisa said the App has allowed Grace to express herself clearly and her frustration and tantrums, which could last for hours are now vastly reduced.
“Grace is also interacting with us a lot more, and I’m delighted to hear her using her own voice, as her speech continues to improve”
There are a lot of families that could benefit from trying out Grace or one of the many Apps developed to support the needs of people with autism – but they need the device to use it. This is a big commitment for a family who may have limited means, and a lot of demands on their income due to the pressures of raising a child with Autism.
Now two charities working on both sides of the Irish Sea, have come up with a scheme to turn old mobiles into new technology like the Apple iPad, while raising funds towards raising the quality of life of individuals with autism
Autism Ireland and Hearts and Minds Uk will exchange 85 old mobile phones in return for an iPod touch which the children need to use the Grace App, or 165 old mobiles for an Apple iPad. The scheme also applies to individuals and families, and they are co-ordinating their collections via Facebook in the UK and Ireland. So far over a 1000 families living with autism have benefited and almost 100 schools have received much needed technology that supports the needs of their pupils.
To help: Go through your drawers and cupboards and clear out all those old mobiles that are taking up space, contact the charities and find out if your local school or autism group is collecting and donate those devices in the envelopes provided. Not only will you be giving a child with autism the chance to communicate, but you will go into a draw to get your mortgage paid for a year – who wouldn’t like that?
Cahir, who got his iPod Touch through the scheme is learning to communicate at his special school in Donegal.