Northshore Magazine

Northshore September 2015

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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58 | SEPTEMBER 2015 ened significantly in recent years. It now sponsors many social activities for people with autism of any age, as well as their families. "We screen family-friendly movies, and offer so- cial events like bike clinics, bowling, and swimming on school vacations," says Gilroy. Castillo adds, "Families will often avoid social events because their child with autism might become stressed or experience sensory overload. At our events, families can meet other families who are dealing with the same issues—it becomes a networking opportunity." Another recent victory for the center is the Touch to Talk program, an innovative idea that enables children who are nonverbal or have limited verbal capabilities to communicate using iPads equipped with a software program called TouchChat. Users press a photo of the desired word onscreen, and the program says the word aloud, mak- ing it simple to form sentences and communicate intent without frustra- tion. Prior to Touch to Talk, most nonverbal autistic children used a cumbersome system called PECS, which requires the use of a heavy binder full of printed photos. "We send families a questionnaire to deter- mine if their needs may fit the program. Then our speech-language pathologist does a therapeutic evalua- tion on the child, and once we determine that the program is a fit, families receive a brand-new iPad free of charge, and training on how to use it," explains Castillo. Gilroy adds, "Often, families will call us because they are almost in crisis with their nonverbal child's behavior at home. For many nonverbal people with autism, behavior is communication—if you increase their ability to communicate with words, you'll see a decrease in challenging behavior." Both Castillo and Gilroy have heard testimony from families whose children have exhibited fewer difficult behaviors after beginning the Touch to Talk program. "We believe that communication is a human right," says Castillo. An extension of the program, Touch Talk Goes to School, has also met with great success. "We partner with a school to offer training for teachers and school personnel. The schools choose several children who fit the requisites for the program, and they continue to support the child with the device." School involvement is key to a child's success with the Touch to Talk program. "Families and schools working together is what we aim for," says Castillo. "With Touch to Talk Goes to School, we know the schools are on board. The response has been unbelievable—the schools love it, and the kids are very respon- sive to the technology." Touch to Talk has been a community Northeast Arc supports a diverse population facing similar challenges. photographs courtesy of Northeast Arc LIVE

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