Monday, March 26, 2012

Game-changing technology offers everyone hope

There’s little doubt that technologies like the iPad are changing people’s lives within the intellectual and developmental disabilities community.

In fact, I bet most of you reading this probably have a basic knowledge of augmentative and assistive communications apps that are creating new hopes and dreams.

Faster than most people ever imagined AAC apps are helping kids express themselves, some for the very first time in their lives.

Parents of non-verbal kids like me – I have two children with cerebral palsy – are excited about all of the seemingly endless possibilities.

Imagine having a nine-year-old whom you’ve never heard talk. I don’t have to, it’s my reality.

Imagine having a two-year-old who can only make vowel sounds. Also my reality.

I’m pumped about the prospect of not having to constantly guess what my children want, especially my oldest daughter.

I’m eager to not always go to the same things that have always worked for her happiness (music, Incredibles, Monsters Versus Aliens, books on tape if she can tolerate the narrator).

But does the ability for my children and I to communicate have a greater impact outside of my family’s tiny world?

Yes.  This kind of technology makes the future brighter outside my world for the following reasons.

As the father of two children in wheelchairs, I’ve seen how speech and language are one disability society has the most trouble coping with.

I’ve witnessed this firsthand with both girls. Their silence is a game-changer in public settings.

I’ve also witnessed how easy it is to mistakenly perceive people who have severe communication disabilities (or none) as also having impaired intelligence. With my daughters, I can emphatically say they each have their own aptitude and intelligence.

I’ve also seen a natural tendency for people to respond to the language pattern of people with disabilities with an over-simplification of their own speech. Embarrassingly, I've done this. Eventually I became self-aware, and now avoid it.

Many times, people have talked to my children at a much younger “voice and language” than is age-appropriate for them. Over time, I’ve learned the skills to politely help them talk to my kids at a more adult level.

Most importantly, individuals who have problems expressing themselves, unless they are also hearing impaired, generally have no problem understanding normal, complex language.

Imagine when your nine-year-old daughter, for the very first time, tells you how stupid you’ve been for talking to her in ways that may have made her angry or sad. I’ve probably also done this, completely unaware.

But I’m waiting for this day. I’m waiting with all of the bad and good that can come with self-expression – even hopeful for it. I’m hopeful within my family’s world. And, I’m even hopeful for our great, wide world, too.

This game-changing technology has the potential to change how everyone views kids within the IDD community, reason enough for all of us to be hopeful.


Tim Gort is a writer, public speaker and advocate who shares his personal challenges and triumphs of being a father of three, two with cerebral palsy, at the family’s bog.


  1. Thanks for writing such a practical and insightful post on communication. I will definitely share it with many families, professionals, and graduate students. The development of AAC apps has revolutionized the ACCEPTANCE of using AAC systems by families and even professionals new to the field (which I love). We now refer to AAC as a system that includes supports such as AAC apps/devices, no-tech visual supports, and many others. There are many research based AAC strategies that will help children learn to communicate and learn language through speaking (voice output app/device), understanding, reading, & writing. No one is 'too anything' to not learn communication and language. To get started, you can check out: , , &
    To paraphrase a famous AAC quote by David Beukelman (1991): having a piano does not make a musician anymore than having an AAC app/device makes you a proficient communicator". Appropriate SUPPORT, INSTRUCTION, PRACTICE, and ENCOURAGEMENT is needed. Have fun facilitating communication and language through AAC strategies.

    1. Thanks Robin for your comment and useful information. I will do the same (sharing the information you've included above). :)

  2. How long do you think a child has to be non verbal before they decide to give them other means of communication? My daughter is 4 and we prompt her to say everything or she wouldn't talk at all. She tries most everything but most sounds nothing like the word but gosh does she try. She is low functioning so she doesn't everything. My fear is that she thinks this is her world and she will never be able to communicate with us her needs and wants.