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'Cool' technology gift helps special needs students
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An idea that was born at Sunflower Diversified Services has resulted in new technology for children with special needs in USD 428. The non-profit agency’s Foundation donated two iPads to the school district and the project is exceeding expectations, organizers said.
“The best way to help children is putting the technology in the hands of the people who teach them,” said Glennda Drescher, Sunflower director of service coordination and chief marketing officer. “We approached the district’s speech-language pathologists who determined where the iPads would do the most good.”
Those Barton County Special Services speech-language pathologists are Mary Bieker and Jami Merlau. After analyzing the needs of students in interrelated special education classrooms throughout the district, they determined the technology would be most useful at Lincoln Elementary and Great Bend High School.
“The iPads are invaluable for kids of all ages who have speech and other concerns,” Bieker said. “We are already hearing good things from parents and teachers.
“For example,” Bieker noted, “a child who is deaf is now able to communicate. Others are expanding their vocabularies and communicating better because they are more comfortable. A student may know a word but just can’t say it. The iPad helps the student find that word.”
Maybe the word is “car,” for instance. Now the child can hear the iPad say the word, see it on the screen and view a picture of a car.
Merlau noted this helps students gain their voices and talk with their peers. “And their peers want to talk with them too,” she said.
In addition, she commented, there are so many different iPad apps that lead to numerous learning opportunities.
These include discovering appropriate ways to behave in social settings, and enhancing focus, fine-motor skills and cognitive thinking. Students also have internet access and are able to learn more in their academic pursuits.
“And then there is the ‘cool factor,’” Merlau pointed out. “Everybody wants to know about the iPad and learn from it.”
To top it off, the iPad is far less expensive than augmentative communication devices that cost thousands of dollars. The iPad is under $1,000 and receives automatic updates on new software.
Both Bieker and Merlau agree that it was “like Christmas” when Sunflower donated the iPads.
Sunflower’s Drescher said she anticipates this partnership with the school district will lead to even more technological help for children with speech and/or other developmental delays.
“We want to continue to find ways to get inexpensive technology into the hands of any child with a disability or delay,” Drescher said. “This project also demonstrates once again that Sunflower wants to help all people with disabilities, not just the ones we directly serve.”
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties.

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