iPad works as aid to therapy for Jessamine 5-year-old

Device helps 5-year-old express himself

ctruman@herald-leader.comJuly 10, 2012 

Five-year-old Hunter Harrison spots the visitor's iPad immediately in the University of Kentucky waiting room.

"I Pid," he hollers from his wheelchair, where he is sitting with his parents, Melissa and Jerry Harrison.

Give him the iPad and he scrolls around purposefully to a copy of the Angry Birds video game. He likes the visitor's iPad; it is thin like his father's, not thickly cased like the one he uses for his speech therapy.

Hunter has a neuromuscular condition that slowed his development. Jane Kleinert, associate professor in the Division of Communications Sciences and Disorders in the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences, works with Harrison on improving his speech.

Hunter is a bright kid, full of 5-year-old energy, but his mouth needs to be brought around to conveying the things his mind can hold: ideas such as numbers and colors and basic identities and requests. That's going to come in particularly handy when Hunter starts first grade this August in a Jessamine County elementary school.

Kleinert and two student assistants work regularly with Hunter, trying to help him develop both breath control and mouth-shaping skills to piece together strings of words and sentences.

But that takes time and a lot of practice with his instructors and with his parents. While assistive communications devices are available for children like Hunter, they are expensive and often bulky. Smaller multitask devices such as the iPad do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid funding.

Kleinert wants to get out the word that the iPad can be just the thing for communications problems and is also lighter, less expensive and more likely to be seen as a badge of social status, unlike the dedicated communications assistance devices.

Kleinert and Jacqui Kearns of UK's Human Development Institute did an assessment of augmentative finding that less than half of the children in the states they studied have in place an augmentative and alternative communication device.

An iPad can be an easier way to take care of those who need such devices but don't have them, Kleinert reasons.

The iPad is small and intuitive for children to use, and light even when encased in layers of plastic armor. The one being used by Hunter is loaded with Proloquo2Go, an application that helps children with communication difficulties vocalize their needs and answer other questions.

Kleinert works with Hunter in a combination of lessons and games, appealing to his fascination with such items as a purple beach ball and a set of primary-colored plastic bowling pins.

She appeals to Hunter to "say it the big-boy way" when referring to his parents: "Mom-MEE" and "Dad-EE." She urges him to get down the preferred pronunciation of iPad.

"Eye," she says to Hunter. "Puh. Ad."

Finally, it's time for the pop quiz.

"What do you need?" Kleinert says.

"I-puh-ad," Hunter responds.

"You did it!" Kleinert says. "That was perfect speech."

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman

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