Student successfully using iPod to communicate

PLYMOUTH — It’s not surprising to hear that many 12-year-olds love using their hand-held electronic devises for playing games and chatting with friends, but the one that Travis Louckes uses is far from just a way to pass the time.
Travis, who has been diagnosed with autism complicated with a communication disorder, is non-verbal. Up until about a year ago when he received to his first iPod, his family and teachers would have to guess at what he needed or wanted. Now, he simply shows those around him what he needs by tapping on an icon or typing out a word.
Travis’s mother Connie said, “Before he had an iPod, he would take us by the hand and lead us to the refrigerator if he was hungry or thirsty, now he shows us with an icon.”
Travis is one of several students in the Plymouth Schools using iPods with special programs built in for communication.
Speech pathologist Rita Large introduced iPods into the schools as a part of a pilot project in the fall of 2009. Large said she has been amazed at how successful the program has been.
“I have been extremely pleased and surprised with what I have seen regarding the use of this tool for communication,” she said. “It has opened the doors for these students to be more independent.”
Currently, there are four students at the elementary level using iPods directly on a daily basis, according to Large.
She said there also have an additional two iPods that have been programmed with the Prologue2Go for kindergarteners who may need to bridge the communication gap from Spanish to English.
“These have just been set up and will be distributed the second week in March,” Large said.
Travis is one of two using iPods at Riverside Inter-mediate as their only means of communication.
Large said, “Travis, for instance, accesses the typing screen to type the word in order to help the listener understand what he is saying. He is remarkable and otherwise nonverbal.”
Connie Louckes, who herself is a school therapist for six different school districts, is well aware of how difficult it can be for some students to cope in a school setting.
“Travis used to get so frustrated in his classes,” she said, “but now is calm and doesn’t shut down. This year he has really progressed in math and his writing skills.”
She praised the efforts of teacher Lisa Rizek and aides Wendy Milligan and Nikki Sniadecki who help Travis and other students reach their full potential.
In addition, two students at Plymouth High School are using iPods for building vocabulary and also some educational instruction.
“After seeing the progress made by students using them, several parents have purchased iPods for their children to use at home or at school,” Louckes said. “I have provided the programs and any support that has been needed for those bought by parents.”
Large described how the iPods are used saying, “A typical lesson starts with becoming familiar with the icons that are available and setting up a folder on the iPod with their name or a picture if the iPod has a camera. Within the folder are many icons they would need on a daily basis. For example ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I need to go to the bathroom.’ As they progress with the use of it, we have put their vocabulary/spelling words on it, prepositions, comments, etc. It takes time for them to become truly independent, but our goal is for them to use it totally independently by third or fourth grade if needed.  We have seen speech emerge and then they rely on the iPod less and less.”
Large has shared her experiences with other corporations within JESSE, Joint Education Services in Special Education, a co-operative among several school corporations providing services to students with special needs.
She said, “Several of the schools within JESSE have purchased iPods/iPads with stimulus money. I have helped the speech pathologists in those corporations set up the program and shown them how it works.” 
Large has seen much during her 36 years in teaching with JESSE. She started the first deaf education program in JESSE and then taught in that area for approximately 20 years.
“Since I have a degree in both speech pathology and deaf education, I had the opportunity to do a career change when the position became available,” she said. Currently, she is the supervisor for the speech pathologists in Plymouth. 
She describes her life’s work as rewarding. Although it is difficult to get Large to give credit to herself, she does have some success stories that have brought her great happiness such as having taught a student to talk when everyone else said she would never speak.
Large understands the economic restrictions being placed on schools now, but is still looking towards the future.
She said, “We are under such a budget crisis so I believe it will be harder to obtain additional items, but my hope is to be able to obtain some iPads for those students who are restricted physically and unable to use the iPod successfully.”