Eight months ago, seven-year-old Jade Forscutt couldn’t talk to her classmates at Samuel Burland School.
Due to a congenital disorder, Jade has been non-verbal for her entire life. This left teachers and family guessing, desperately trying to read her eye movements and follow her hand as she "pointed to the same thing twenty, thirty times,” said her father, Cory Forscutt.
This school year, things are different. Thanks to a newly acquired iPad, Jade can now chat with classmates, share stories from her summer vacation and tell her dad what happened at school each day. For children with special needs, the technology has been truly revolutionary.
Applications like Touchchat allow non-verbal children, such as those living with Cerebral Palsy or Down Syndrome, to select images, words and phrases with the tap of a finger and “speak” with the help of the device’s speakers.
Another app, Pictello allows Jade to snap and share photos and video, expressing her world view without words.
Jade’s speech language therapist, Cindy Walker, works with children throughout Winnipeg, many of whom are shifting towards using the devices full time.
She said the changes she has seen in children like Jade in mere months "are what we used to watch for over 25 years in a person, hoping they'd get to that level.”
There were different communication devices in the past, but they often performed only one function and cost thousands of dollars.
Winnipeg's Open Access Resource Centre is helping families access this technology.
This fall they have 130 iDevices out on loan, and in the past six months, have helped 74 individuals acquire their own iPad with the appropriate set-up and training.
Having the right apps and settings is vital. Like any second grade student in front of a screen, it’s often a challenge to keep Jade focused on the task at hand. However, the device also draws other students to her, and photos of Jade swimming and horseback riding pushes peers to look beyond her disability.
It has also allowed teachers and family to truly understand the full depth of her intelligence and plan for the future.
"Jade has always shown her personality regardless of speech,” said Jade’s father, Cory. “This just gives her a greater chance to interact with everyone else and show them that personality."