60 Minutes did an excellent presentation Sunday about Autistic adults and children using the iPad to communicate. Communication by augmentative machines is not a new idea, from typewriters to alternative voice computers. For years Tucson’s autistic students could get speech devices through the Arizona AHCCS program. Also, a program for identifying autism early was developed here at the U of AZ. Although part of 60 Minutes oversimplified some facts, two things stood out. It takes interaction with a teacher or parent for autistic children to focus and learn. Children learn from parents speaking, even if they don’t answer.
The programs are varied, but all require focusing on pictures to communicate. The pictures are categorized. One has to select a series of pictures and then push the button to produce speech. 60 Minutes showed one teacher and boy learning numbers. He first had to punch in the category “numbers” and then proceed. It is this categorization which handicaps many learners. An example is the word “Frog.” On one program used near Tucson, the child had to know that a frog was an animal, plus knowing that the zebra picture represented the animal kingdom. From there, the child must know that a frog is a “water” animal, and select water. Then the child picks the frog out of a lineup of amphibians and fish. That all takes a lot of generalization – a higher learning skill.
Downloading the program onto the iPad was mentioned, and 60 minutes moved on without explaining the need for training. The program mentioned Proloquo2go, which is available for teachers and other persons. However, Proloquo has a required series of webinars to teach one how to use it. The program cannot just be downloaded and “poof” one can use it. Other manufacturers of speech machines provide teaching as well, often in lectures held at the school. It is important that both teachers and parents learn to use the machine so that learning progresses in both places.
60 Minutes showed a kindergarten class; however, U of AZ. Professor, Ann Mastergeorge is hoping to teach parents to recognize possible autism as early as 12 months. She hopes her intervention program for parents will teach interaction skills to improve children’s communication skills. Thus getting a start before preschool age.
Many believe autism hides high intelligence. This was the case with the ten year old boy given a vocabulary test on the Ipod. He knew an amazing amount of words, but had not responded to other forms of testing. This is evidence that speaking to your child teaches and improves intelligence. However, your child need not respond to be learning. This lack of response was suggested by Dr. Mastergeorge as a means of identifying autistic children early. It is important to continue speaking and reading to your child to give every possible advantage.