By Nicole Hegewald
Jonathan Word from Texas has autism and is non verbal, or was non verbal. His mom, Vera Word, came up with a plan to give Jonathan a portable in-style way to have him be heard. She got him a cell phone. With text message capabilities and a full QWERTY keyboard Jonathan was able to type out messages to send to his mother and teacher.
“It was genius,” agreed Jenna Daily, Jonathon’s teacher in Harrell Accelerated Learning Center’s autistic program. “We’ve all been super-excited. The cell phone has really opened up the possibilities.”
As a child, Jonathon knew the meanings of words. But it was unclear if he could read, since he couldn’t speak and read aloud. Vera utilized tools used to accommodate hearing-impaired children. Jonathan would let her know what he needed by pointing to one of various pictures that she kept on keychain. They also kept the letters of the alphabet on the refrigerator from when Jonathon was 7, so that he could spell words out.
Vera came up with the idea to get a cell phone for her son when she traded in her old Verizon cell phone for a new one. She didn’t think his cell phone would need a phone number and connection, but she wanted to make the blank screen and keyboard available. She tried to retrieve her old phone from Verizon after she sent it back, but since they were unable to return it, they donated a sapphire blue Blitz phone to the family.
The family’s big moment came when Jonathan was playing computer games and came bursting into the room to see his mother. He had typed out, “Big Pac Man ate Blue Ghost.” It was the first time a complete thought was shared from Jonathan to Vera and she did not need to guess what he was referring to.
“It was the first time he told me anything that I didn’t have to fill in the blanks!” she said.
The moment was so momentous Vera called Daily to let her know the news, even though it was after hours on the weekend. The ladies shared the triumph over the phone and reeled in the age appropriateness of the device. They are sure it will help Jonathan relate more to his peers and help him feel less isolated.
“It says, ‘I may sound different, but I am just like you. I can communicate, I’m intelligent, I have opinions, and I am a teen-age boy,” Daily announced.
As Jonathans communication improves with the aide of the cellular device, his mother and Daily are looking forward to the future. They are hopeful that this will allow Jonathan to effectively communicate for himself to his peers as well.
As technology evolves, Vera wonders what else lays in store for her son. Text messaging programs allow the words that are typed in to be read aloud and iPhone is developing an app called “Grace” that is used like a Picture Exchange Communication System (Pecs) book that encourages communication for children who are nonverbal.
Daily is rewarding Jonathan by positively reinforcing him any time he completes a full sentence with the phone. Any request or query is immediately fulfilled.
Hopefully this will encourage him to keep improving and make his life easier in the future.