Teach me to talk and the Autism Spectrum Disorder child

Sometimes talking is an incredible challenge for some children with autism (ASD). That can be equally true for a child who is intellectually delayed (ID) and certainly for those individuals who have both disabilities.

That was the case for Archie who was ASD and ID. Archie was just beginning to learn how to communicate through pictures and was doing quite well. Computers, however, was another story. Technology can be amazing for many children to help improve their communication and academics. For Archie, that was about to begin. His teacher wanted him to benefit from technology just like so many of his peers. How to get Archie to follow through was going to be the challenge.

The problem was Archie had such a limited attention span. It was difficult to get the child to sit down and focus. The Smart board was a great tool. However, when the boy came up to it, he had no idea what to do. His touch was all over the board.

So the teacher pulled up a very old program she had used many years before. She had not had a student like Archie for quite a while. Would the old program work for Archie?

The teacher knew that the Smart board could be paired with the old program “Teach Me to Talk”. However, the teacher wanted Archie to learn how to use a smaller computer screen.

Unfortunately, her touch screen on the Hatch computer was not working.

She knew where another touch screen was from a class that didn’t need it. After changing out the screens, the computer was all ready to try. The teacher loaded the old program and out “Teach Me to Talk” came right up on the screen. It is such a simple program that has automatic puzzle placement for a huge choice of words.

When Archie came to the computer, the teacher placed his hand on the screen. His hand motion immediately activated the screen and a puzzle piece slid across. Then after a few examples, Archie began to bang on the screen. Eventually a full slice of pizza bounced across the computer.

Over time, the teacher had the program changed to drag and place two puzzle pieces of a pizza. Archie gradually learned to put the two pieces into the puzzle correctly. Then the screen would announce “pizza.” Soda, hamburger, cake and lots of other food words were gradually introduced on the screen for Archie. He loved the food pictures and responded well to the picture icons.

The plan was to move the boy from the picture icons on the computer program to a portable communication board. Archie was on his way.

Another boy, Saul, was watching Archie. Like Archie, Saul had trouble using a mouse too. The teacher decided to start Saul with two puzzle pieces on the “Teach Me to Talk Program.” Over just a few sessions, Saul grasped how to use the mouse. This helped enable Saul to work with some other reading programs on the computer.

Saul was thrilled to learn how to use the mouse and loved the simplified puzzles. The smile on Saul’s face when he realized that he could use a computer like the other students was priceless. Saul was learning and having fun doing it, too.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at downpamg@aol.com.