Giving children a voice with technology

Health | April 8, 2015
Young boy using an iPad to communicate

For 85 families in need, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

For the past 32 years, Getting Ready for Inclusion Today (GRIT) has been working with two and a half to five and a half year olds with severe disabilities to be fully included in family life, communities and schools. The organization is as grassroots as it gets. GRIT was founded when five families wanted to find a solution for how to support their children with educational programming right in their own community. By facilitating technology and one-on-one support needed to participate, GRIT is helping ensure kids facing various challenges are included.

“Many of our children have quite complex medical histories having been born with complications,” said Krista Wennerstrom, program coordinator, GRIT. “We provide programming for kids with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other disabilities – children who have learning and communication challenges as their primary issues.”

Our Edmonton Community Board donated $15,000 in 2013, allowing GRIT to purchase iPads that expanded the organizations growing technology lending library. These high-tech devices have proven to be invaluable and are available to kids for as long as they need them, or when their families can afford to purchase their own. GRIT’s education team of speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and teachers helps identify the technology needs of each child. Support in these early stages of development for children who are non-verbal helps them achieve meaningful inclusion at home and school and creates a critical communication channel and connection with their family and peers.

“It’s a valuable tool because it is her voice. And pictures are worth a thousand words to her."

Krista Wennerstrom

Our donation is doing more than just increase the library of technology tools. It’s creating community support for 85 families with little girls and boys diagnosed with severe development delays, including autism. “This one little girl with autism was able to go to a regular daycare with our support, and is now in a kindergarten program,” said Wennerstrom. “She started out non-verbal, now she uses some words, but also pictures to communicate her needs, and she is also using her iPad to communicate. There are so many great apps that we can put on there to help her express herself.”

“Tell and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”

Benjamin Franklin

That is the difference technology can have on children struggling with disabilities. “I have been a speech-language pathologist for 20 years and I mentioned that this little girl is using pictures to communicate. Before the iPad, we were having to take a photograph, upload it, print it off, laminate it, put it together in her picture communication binder,” said Wennerstrom. “Now we have instant access to photographs because we just take a picture of her classroom and upload it to an app that allows her to make choices and tell us what she likes and how she is feeling. It’s that immediate technology; children with autism often don’t do well with change unless they’re well prepared. It’s such a fantastic medium and there is more and more research behind the positive effects in using these kinds of visual screen supports for children with autism. It’s those stories that make me happy to come to work every day.”