RIO RANCHO, N.M. — For children with physical and mental limitations, like 7-year-old Parker Stone, communicating can be a frustrating endeavor.
Rio Rancho Public Schools is now using an electronic “talker” that helps Stone, who has autism, communicate better by helping him form complete sentences. The small Prentke Romich electronic devices have a touch screen and use the Language Acquisition through Motor Planning, or LAMP, technology.
The screen has pictures that students can touch with their own fingers to create a sentence. They can switch to a screen with a keyboard to type out words as well, creating sentences using both the pictures and by typing text.
Once they push enter, the device speaks the sentence. For example, they could spell out “I want to read a book.”
About 10 students districtwide use the Romich electronic devices, which cost about $8,400 each. They are purchased either by the district for use at school or by a student’s family, with the help of insurance, as was the case with Stone.
Stone’s special education teacher, Megan Garrigan, and his mother, Diana Stone, said the device has opened up the world for the Vista Grande Elementary first-grader.
“Parker is definitely changing,” Garrigan said. “Whereas in the past, he would run at you or yell, which are less socially acceptable behaviors, now he will use his talker.”
Diana Stone said Parker was born with congenital heart defects and has had other medical issues that have led to 15 surgeries. She said his autism, combined with his medical issues, have made it hard for him to communicate verbally.
She said not only has Parker used the device to speak for him, but also his own verbal skills are improving.
“His vocals are improving tremendously,” she said. “He’s started talking in complete sentences.”
In addition to the therapists and teachers at school, Parker’s family has hired a speech therapist to work with him. His mother said that, while that has contributed to boosting his verbal skills, the device has been a big part of his improvement.
“This has opened our world to him,” Diana Stone said. “Children like Parker, they are intelligent. They understand what is going on. This is a huge tool for him to be able to communicate.”
Adrian Marlowe, who has autism and is in Stone’s class, also uses the device. Garrigan said she has seen similar results with Marlowe.
Garrigan said she recalled a time recently when another student took something Marlowe was using. She said that, through the device, he was able to tell the other child he was using the object rather than having an outburst.
“Instead of screaming or biting or throwing something across the room, we are teaching them to use their words,” Garrigan said. “This is a pretty savvy communication device.”