When Eric Zamora received his iPad last year, his ability to communicate was enhanced many fold. But in the near future, it could get even better.
Zamora is a client of Sunflower Diversified Services, which serves infants, toddlers and adults with developmental disabilities in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. The non-profit agency celebrated its 45th anniversary last year.
The next device for Zamora could be a DynaVox Maestro, which is the "latest and greatest" in communication aids, said Glennda Drescher, Sunflower chief marketing officer. Zamora has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
"It allows people with limited dexterity, such as Eric, to communicate by reading words," Drescher explained. "After he gazes at the words, this device will actually speak them aloud as they are read."
Zamora still has many uses for his iPad, which comes in handy every day, Drescher added. "It combines text and icons so Eric can link words together. We are on the cusp of truly customized communication with these sophisticated devices."
Another beneficiary of the iPad technology is Kadin White, former Sunflower Early Education Center student and current Lincoln School third grader. Like Zamora, the youngster is using an iPad donated by the Sunflower Diversified Services Foundation.
"It’s difficult to explain how much progress Kadin has made," Drescher said. "His language has developed with amazing clarity and an increase in vocabulary. It is so much fun to see his progress."
Mary Bieker, speech-language pathologist, and Mish Prosser, special education teacher, deserve much credit for this success, Drescher emphasized. "They are a great team," she said. "Mary and Mish have graciously shared their expertise and are leading Kadin down this new technological path."
Many Sunflower individuals are, or soon will be, using other new technology. For example, the agency recently acquired a new therapy table.
"This new equipment offers heat therapy and soothing white noise for people who need a calming environment," said Jim Johnson, Sunflower executive director.
In addition, Johnson noted, Sunflower is shopping for new, up-to-date adaptive equipment.
"The people we serve are living longer, more productive lives with our support," Johnson said. "This means we must find adaptive equipment that better serves those who are at retirement age."
Since Sunflower also serves babies and toddlers, it is keeping up with new technology at its Early Education Center and Incredible Years Preschool too.
Last year the staff began using a Smart Board, which along with a laptop and projector allows easy access to online material, said Cathy Estes, coordinator at both the early ed center and preschool.
"We use it for our weekly team meetings to review early intervention services for specific children," Estes said. "It allows us to use the screen to pull up all their information, while we brainstorm and write on the Smart Board at the same time. We can then email a copy of our work to everyone involved.
"We also use video to record children’s activities in their own homes," Estes continued. "Then we can watch the video and provide new ideas for intervention. All of this is done, of course, with parental consent."
Estes noted that webcams and other video technology are also used to enhance the lives of children and their families.
The technology available on iPads would be helpful for speech and language issues.
"We would love to have two or three iPads," Estes commented. "Young children understand more than they can express verbally. For example, children with precursors to autism think in pictures. The old saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ is true.
"Pictures relieve the anxiety of not being able to communicate what they already understand," Estes added. "An iPad would be a wonderful tool in communication because it would relieve stress and enhance positive behaviors."
Sunflower is a non-profit agency that is funded, in part, by tax dollars. It also relies on private donations to help with its regular programs, as well as these special needs.
"We are doing all we can to keep up with new technological advancements," Director Johnson said. "Our staff knows how important it is to provide as much as we can – whether for the youngsters or those at retirement age. We will offer anything we can to give people of any age more independence."