iPhone Applications as Communication Devices

Via USA Today

Leslie Clark and her husband have been trying to communicate with their autistic 7-year-old son, JW, for years, but until last month, the closest they got was rudimentary sign language.

He’s “a little bit of a mini-genius,” Clark says, but like many autistic children, JW doesn’t speak at all.

Desperate to communicate with him, she considered buying a specialized device like the ones at his elementary school in Lincoln, Neb. But the text-to-speech machines are huge, heavy and expensive; a few go for $8,000 to $10,000.

Then a teacher told her about a new application that a researcher had developed for, of all things, the iPhone and iPod Touch. Clark drove to the local Best Buy and picked up a Touch, then downloaded the “app” from iTunes.

Total cost: about $500.

A month later, JW goes everywhere with the slick touch-screen mp3 player strapped to his arm. It lets him touch icons that voice basic comments or questions, such as, “I want Grandma’s cookies” or “I’m angry — here’s why.” He uses his “talker” to communicate with everyone — including his service dog, Roscoe, who listens to voice commands through the tiny speakers.

It’s a largely untold story of Apple’s popular audio devices.

It is not known how many specialized apps are out there, but Apple touts a handful on iTunes, among them ones that help users do American Sign Language and others like Proloquo2Go, which helps JW speak.

The app also aids children and adults with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS — even stroke patients who have lost the ability to speak, says its co-developer, Penn State doctoral student Samuel Sennott.

Using the iPhone and Touch allows developers to democratize a system that has relied on devices that were too expensive or difficult to customize, Sennott says. “I love people being able to get it at Best Buy,” he says. “That’s just a dream.”

He also says that for an autistic child, the ability to whip out an iPhone and talk to friends brings “this very hard-to-quantify cool factor.”

Sennott won’t give out sales figures for the $149.99 app but says they’re “extremely brisk.”

Ronald Leaf, director of Autism Partnership, a private California-based agency, says he prefers to help autistic children such as JW learn how to navigate their world without gadgets. “If we could get children to talk without using technology, that would be our preference,” he says.

Clark says the app has changed her son’s life.

“He’s actually communicating,” she says. “It’s nice to see what’s going on in his head.”

Among the revelations of the past month: She now knows JW’s favorite restaurant. “I get to spend at least every other day at the Chinese buffet.”

Connecting Communities 2009

Via Oregon YTP

October 15, 2009
4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The Doubletree Hotel
1000 NE Multnomah Street

Portland, OR

Join family, friends and colleagues at Connecting Communities 2009 as we celebrate this October as National Disability Awareness Month. Headlined by national speaker Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII(LinkedIN/BIO), Connecting Communities 2009 celebrates all people living in our community – regardless of age or ability. Ken Boddie (BIO), a KOIN Channel 6 anchor, will emcee the event.

It is our intention that this event will be the catalyst to create a powerful coalition of community partners who represent and advocate with and for those with disabilities. Please look out for our first community meeting which we will convene in mid-November.

Featured Activities:

* Dance performance by the Disability Art & Culture Project
* Musical performance by Jeremy Doney
* Storytelling by writer and narrator, Choi Marquardt
* Presentation of City of Portland’s 2009 “Making a Difference” awards
* Unveiling of City of Portland’s new Commission on Disabilities
* Interactive showcase of assistive technologies
* Fundraising for the “Returning Veterans Project”

For more information visit: http://www.phcnw.com/cc09/

New Portland-area school will serve students with autism

Via The Oregonian

A Portland woman who sees a void in Oregon education is starting a private school for students with neurological differences such as autism and attention deficit disorder.

Sameera Abdulaziz’s metro-area school would serve a select student population and combine academics with therapeutic intervention to help students make decisions and learn how to interact with others.

Abdulaziz, 29, a doctoral student in clinical psychology, plans to open River City Academy in fall 2010. The school has nonprofit status.

The high numbers of students with autism and other disorders support a local presence, she said. There are few private schools in the metro area that cater to students with special needs and learning disabilities.

More than 7,000 Oregon students have autism, which is 10 times the amount a decade ago. Nearly 49,000 of Oregon’s 88,000 schoolchildren in special education programs have learning disabilities or speech and language impairments. One in eight Oregon students receives special education services.

“I really want to help the students who are struggling in traditional schools,” Abdulaziz said. During her master’s program, she began thinking of opening a school for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other learning disabilities, though the focus later changed.

Federal law requires school districts to serve students with special education needs, although the programs vary.

Some districts, including Portland and Beaverton, offer programs at select schools to serve certain students, including those with autism spectrum disorder, attention disorders or behavior disorders. Most districts strive to be inclusive so that special-needs students spend much of their day with the general student population.

River City Academy For more details, visit www.rivercityacademyportland.org or call 503-380-7285. The Monarch School’s Web site is www.monarchschool.org.

River City Academy will be modeled after the Monarch School in Houston, which opened in 1998 and serves 100 students. Abdulaziz has signed a contract with Monarch School to replicate its program.

Abdulaziz found Monarch on the Internet when she was refining her school’s focus. She said the program attracted her because it was a therapeutic model that could be offered during the day instead of as a boarding school. She also liked how “the children changed as people.”

“Our main goal is how they have changed emotionally, how they have been able to create relationships with other students,” Abdulaziz said.

Abdulaziz has never worked in a school. She earned her master’s degree in education administration from Portland State University and is pursuing a doctorate degree with Walden University, an online program.

River City’s tuition will be about $30,000 for early intervention students ages 4 to 6, with lower fees for older students. The school hopes to attract 20 or more students from early childhood to the high school level for its first year.

Students would have individualized learning plans and work at their own pace along with a staff psychologist and speech pathologist. Students could feel comfortable in the setting because they all have special education needs, Abdulaziz said.

Central goals of the curriculum are developing basic skills and decision-making techniques.

In public schools, the thought is to integrate students as much as possible into classes and with their peers, said Joshua Fritts, a Beaverton School District assistant special education director.

“By making sure from day one that there are interactions in the mainstream, kids are part of their community,” Fritts said.

Patrick Maguire, director of Thomas Edison High School in Beaverton, said a new metro-area school would add choices. The 80-student private high school serves students with learning differences including dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and auditory processing disorders.

“We’re turning away kids from our program,” Maguire said. “We need more options.”

Maguire added that one of his concerns about River City’s initial size is that students wouldn’t get enough social interaction with others their age.

River City is funded by private investors during its planning year. It is still raising money to send teachers, a psychologist and speech pathologist to Houston to train with the Monarch staff for a year.

School planners eventually want to add a diagnostic clinic to serve the community and create a Life Academy program for students to practice skills such as food preparation.

River City Academy “is not just going to be a school, but part of the community,” Abdulaziz said.

— Melissa Navas; melissanavas@news.oregonian.com

Asperger Syndrome Resources

Kristinachew.com – Kristina Chew is a Classics professor, mother of a 12-year-old son, Charlie, who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, a translator and teacher of Latin and ancient Greek and a blogger, formerly at My Son Has Autism/Autismland (2006-2008), Autism Vox (2006-08) and Change.org (2008-09). She’s  currently writing a book about life on the long road with Charlie.

Parenting and Teaching Kids with Aspergers – A comprehensive site with resources, suggestions and support for parents and teachers of individuals with Asperger Syndrome.

Wrong Planet – A web community designed for individuals (and parents of those) with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, PDDs, and other neurological differences. We provide a discussion forum, where members communicate with each other, an article section, with exclusive articles and how-to guides, a blogging feature, and a chatroom for real-time communication with other Aspies.

H1N1 Flu Prevention

Each year, 5-20% of the worldwide population will become ill with influenza. In the United States, influenza and its complications cause an average of 36,000 deaths and 226,000 hospitalizations, as well as countless hours of missed work and medical expenses. Influenza often leads to secondary infections such as pneumococcal pneumonia. Children, newborn through 5 years, are at an especially high risk of complications, as are people over 65 years and those of any age with reduced immune systems.

Prevention of influenza requires a two-pronged attack:

1. Reduce transmission of the virus

  • Frequent hand washing
  • Cover sneezes and coughs
  • Stay home when you’re sick
  • Clean work and household surfaces often
  • Wear a mask if you have a compromised immune system
  • Ask your family, friends, and health providers to get a flu vaccination

2. Reduce susceptibility to the virus

  • Get an annual influenza vaccination
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Exercise and eat well
  • Manage any chronic conditions

More resources here at  www.flu.oregon.gov.