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February 2011



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First Published February 15, 2011

By April Scarlett, Special Writer

As a teacher’s assistant pointed to a pictured animal pattern on the bulletin board, a small group of special education preschoolers followed along, “pig, pig, monkey; pig, pig, monkey.”

The teacher then asked, “pig, pig, and what comes next?”

The children shouted out their answers. This kind of group interaction is something Taylor Parrish couldn’t have done a year ago. Teachers and family now know that it wasn’t because Taylor didn’t know the answer — it was just that he couldn’t communicate it verbally.

Taylor was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 2 years old. Until recently, no one really knew what Taylor could do or the capacity of what he has been learning.

The pattern lesson switched to numbers. The assistant asked, “What number comes after the number six?” Some of the kids paused — and among the quiet — an electronic voice could be heard, insistently over and over again, “seven, seven, seven, seven, seven.” The answer was coming from the speaker of an iPad, held by Taylor, who was excited and a little impatient to be the first one to answer correctly.

Nicole Phelps is Taylor’s ECSC teacher at Pleasant Ridge Elementary School in Saline.

“We were so excited!” she said, describing the day she introduced the iPad to Taylor.

With a special voice-activated application installed on the iPad, it didn’t take long to figure out just what Taylor had been keeping inside.

“He knew his colors, shapes, letters and could count,” Phelps said. “We always knew he was bright, but had no idea how much he has been learning.”

Before the iPad, it had been very difficult to assess exactly what Taylor was retaining. He could point, or make minimal audible sounds, but otherwise really struggled to communicate. Suddenly, with the iPad — and an application supplied through the Saline Area Schools Instructional Technology Department — not only did Taylor have a voice, but he had an opinion.

For example, for a snack, the speaker could say, “I want yogurt” versus something else. Turns out yogurt is Taylor’s favorite food, and was one of the keys to figuring out his diagnosis.

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