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VIDEO: School division gets money to help autistic children

Ron Thomson

Technology will give the Portage la Prairie School Division a boost in teaching its students with autism.

The division will purchase three iPads with an application called Proloquo2Go, which turns the iPad into a communications device.

Proloquo2Go is product from AssistiveWare. The app provides a full-featured communication solution for people who have difficulty speaking. It brings natural sounding text-to-speech voices, close to 8000 up-to-date symbols, powerful automatic conjugations, a large default vocabulary and full expandability.

The Community Foundation of Portage and District Grant Committee co-chair, Brad McMurray, presented a cheque for $3,000 to Bonnie Gadway, speech/language pathologist for the Portage School Division on Friday to purchase the iPad and the app.

The purpose of the division's iPad project is to provide an effective tool for teaching autistic children communications and social skills. A number of children who are diagnosed with autism in the division have little or no verbal communications skills. Autism is a lifelong disability with communication impairment being a major component.

"There is kids I've been working with this past year that do need a communication system because they don't speak or their speech is really hard to understand," Gadway said.

Using an iPad with Proloquo2Go is a cheaper alternative to purchasing communications devices, which range in price from $5,000 to $20,000.

"This way we can try this out with the kids and see if the communication device is something that's going to work, Gadway said.

There are about 30 students with autism in the division, but about 12 will start out using the Apple tablet.

"I worked with them all year and I think they're ready to try something like this and then there will be other ones that will be ready to try it a little later," Gadway said.

The iPad also has a large number of free or cheap applications that can be downloaded to provide activities for the special needs population, Gadway said.

"There's also lots of free apps that you can purchase to use with special needs kids as far as doing picture schedules, social stories, there's lots of visual-type activities the kids can use it for."

McMurray said the the Community Foundation of Portage and District is happy to help and handing out funding to programs such as this is the best part of the job. Gadway convinced the grants committee to fund the project back in April, McMurray said.

"She made a compelling case the benefits of the iPad application," he said. "She convinced us as a committee it would greatly improve the communication skills of the students involved and for future students for many years to come."

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