Monday, December 13, 2010

Technology for Serious Communication Issues

Almost all of our blog posts are focused on educational issues for typical learners or students with learning difficulties. Sometimes, as we work our way through the myriad of journals, email newsletters, and other resources that provide much of our inspiration and material, we come across items beyond our regular scope, that we believe our readers will appreciate.

For example, we've written before about how technology can help many students with tasks like note-taking and with organizing materials for a writing project. But for students with serious disabilities, technology can make even more of a difference. A New York Times article on the use of the iPad to help profoundly disabled individuals communicate noted that this device was easier to use than a computer, in part because of the sensitivity of its touchpad,  and that it enabled students who could not previously express themselves to share their thoughts and needs with their caregivers. Ben Yellin, today's contributing blogger, shares his work experiences with technology and students with profound communication difficulties:

Contributing Blogger Ben

I encountered several situations like the one described in the New York Times article this past summer, when I worked at Ramapo For Children. Ramapo is a summer camp located in the Hudson Valley region of New York that works with kids who are struggling with autism or behavioral issues. I remember having one camper came up to me, iPod touch in hand, and we started having a full fledged conversation. I was amazed that this camper was able to do that. I was also amazed at the ability he had to write out full sentences and thoughts. For kids with serious speech related issues, the thoughts are there, they just don’t have a way to communicate that which they want to say. Devices like the iPad or iPod Touch help them with that.

On another occasion, I spent time having a conversation with a camper who was nonverbal;  however, we had a lengthy discussion about both of us being from New York City with me talking and him responding back on an iPhone that he had wrapped around his wrists. That interaction truly blew me away at the wonders of modern technology and how it is ever expanding to the point that people are finding new and creative uses for it.

You might end up being surprised at what some of the devices that are commonly used in everyday lives can do. 

There are also some interesting developments on the research front of assisted communication, including the awarding of the $100,000 Team prize of the Siemens Competition to two high school juniors from Oregon, who developed a computer algorithm to more accurately detect emotion in a human speech, which could assist individuals with autism who presently are unable to "read" the emotional aspect of conversations. We expect to learn of many more exciting new technology in this field and will keep you posted.

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