“Often, you can tell the kid wants to say something but their body or language betrays them,” he said.
Thanks to the technology, a cacophony of sounds bubble up in The Children's Center classroom where patients with complex medical and physical disabilities speak with great difficulty or not at all.
With a favorite iPad app, Abbagale hears the word “Dolphin,” when the letter “D” appears on a page or “Iguana,” when she swipes the screen so the virtual page turns to the letter “I.”
Though her condition will always require a ventilator that allows her to breathe but prevents her from speaking, Brannan said Abbagale eventually will be introduced to an iPad voice synthesizer that will take her language beyond touch.
The iPads can be customized not only for facial recognition and the screen sensitivity but also for the user's different environments, he said.
For example, applicable pictures and material would be available to a child going into a therapy session, compared with material more applicable to watching a movie with family members or visiting a public schools classroom.
“It's really exciting that things like this can benefit someone like Abbagale, whose dependence on technology is going to continue,” Brannan said.
In a wheelchair next to Abbagale, curly-mopped Azon Meyers, 3, becomes a one-man band as he presses repeatedly on the corner of an iPad, making it spout out sounds of whistles, bells, crying babies, clapping, yodeling and more while stars, clouds, triangles and other shapes prance across the iPad lying on his wheelchair table. With help from his teacher, the little music guy's iPad becomes a guitar one moment and a xylophone the next.
Azon sits next to Fletcher Burns, 7, who quickly points out his new blue jeans to visitors. From his miniature wood chair, Fletcher swings tiny feet clad in black and white tennis shoes as his teacher asks him to get his pointer finger out. Fletcher, who knows sign language, holds up his right index finger and looks down at the iPad.
“Where's the triangle?” lead teacher Stephanie Delk asks Fletcher.
He looks at the screen a couple of seconds and then touches the correct shape, prompting the iPad to say “Yippee!”
Delk said the iPads offer teachers a new tool that is well received by youngsters like Fletcher.
“I think it creates more independence for him. I'm not holding up the shapes,” she said.
“And it's a lot more fun for him by it giving feedback by saying, ‘Yippee!' or whatever.”
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The Children's Center
Residents: About 120 medically fragile children live in The Children's Center and receive treatment.
Current services: Today, the hospital offers medical services, rehabilitative care and social services to children in long-term care, children in short-term rehabilitation after experiencing trauma such as a brain or spinal cord injury, and several thousand outpatients who visit the hospital and the pediatric clinic. Clinical treatment ranges from general pediatrics for typically developing children to specialized medicine for children with complex disabilities.
Ages: Ranging in age from birth to 17, patients have disabilities resulting from birth defects, complications at birth, accidents and illnesses.
Numbers: The Children's Center has more than 475 employees and an operating budget of about $24 million.
Compiled by SONYA COLBERG,