Breakthrough devices for autistic students

Keyboard and touch screen devices allow autistic students to break through the isolation of speech problems and sensory overload.

For children who suffer from autism and other neurological disorders that make it difficult to speak, there is a new technological development they may facilitate better communication, reports The Mercury News.

The LinkPLUS keyboard is part of a series of augmentative and alternative communication devices that were developed for people who've lost the ability to speak but can still type or use a stylus. Appropriate users are people who have had a brain injury or degenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or autism.

At the Pacific Autism Center for Education in Sunnyvale, CA - a school for young people with autism and other developmental disorders - sixty percent of the 53 students don't speak. Devices such as touch screens and specialized keyboards would go a long way in helping children with these disabilities.

Touch-screen technology is also helping to promote interactions between students and others. Students can get very comfortable using the technology. After being asked a question, a student can touch the screen with the stylus and the computer translates the message into spoken words.

To see autistic students break through the speech problems and sensory overload that typify autism and finally interact with the people around them "is monumental,'' says Kurt Ohlfs, PACE's executive director, who has a special connection to the technology.
Ohlf is an engineer who has worked on building the same type of touch pad devices that he is now hoping to help students at PACE and elsewhere. Ohlf is also working on using video to track student development as well as new ways to employ technology in teaching.

"If I can leverage technology I helped develop -- I'd be thrilled,'' Ohlfs says, displaying the enthusiasm and determination that have helped him thrive in his new career. "Nothing is more fulfilling than to be at both ends of this.''