Meander Valley Gazette

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Small steps, giant results

Community, FeatureJoanne Eisemann
Michael Nicholson and Terri Walker of Giant Steps, working with the communication app Proloquo2Go.  Photo by Mike Moores

Michael Nicholson and Terri Walker of Giant Steps, working with the communication app Proloquo2Go.

Photo by Mike Moores

GIANT STEPS in Deloraine recently received a $5000 grant from Aurora Energy as part of its Community Grants Program. This has enabled the school to purchase brand new iPads and specialised apps to assist students who have difficulties with communication.

The Proloquo2Go and LAMP apps are used at Giant Steps to give non-verbal students (who cannot talk) and minimally verbal students the voice they need to communicate. Children point to the symbols or words on the apps and the iPad then ‘says’ the word that they have pointed to.

Using these apps, the students can put sentences together to express their ideas and wants.

These apps have also been shown to support the ability of the student to understand what is said to them.

Terri Walker is one of two speech pathologists at Giant Steps who are using iPads and apps for what is known as Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC).

Developed overseas, these apps can have a vocabulary modified for Australian students.

Words and images can be restricted or ‘masked’ for younger students or those who are just beginning to communicate and can be expanded or ‘unmasked’ as students progress.

There is a large range of communication skills across the students at Giant Steps The iPads and different apps that are available assist the teaching staff to extend these skills.

‘For a student to be able to ask to go outside and play, to say they are hungry or even to say ‘hello’ to people is empowering and they are more able to develop relationships with others if they can communicate,’ said Giant Steps Principal Tim Chugg.

Students on the autism spectrum, even when very talkative, still respond better to visual cues rather than aural. They often perform better in the classroom, learning more quickly if they communicate and receive input visually as well as verbally.

Autism often causes a ‘motor planning problem’ – a child knows what they want to do or say, but has difficulty getting their body to respond. The use of the communication technology (AAC systems) does not stop students from ever talking.

Research has shown that the opposite occurs and it will help develop talking skills in many non-verbal students.

Giving students a voice means they are able to express themselves through words rather than behaviour.

Students who move to mainstream schools may continue to need visual cues to help them study and navigate a confusing environment.

World Autism Awareness Day is held on 2nd April every year. Software can be bought for half price to assist families to provide their children with the tools to communicate with the wider world.