Apple releases videos showing autistic teen using tech to communicate

April is Autism Acceptance month, and today is the eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day. These campaigns are meant to raise awareness and provide information for the general population to learn more about young people’s struggle with this neuro-developmental disorder. This morning, Apple released a pair of videos on YouTube showing how technology can assist those with special needs.

The short films focus on a teenager named Dillan, who uses his iPad to communicate with the world around him. As stated on Apple’s autism page from its official site, “During Autism Acceptance Month, he reminds us that everyone’s voice should be heard.”

Dillan has the same thoughts and ambitions as his peers, but he is unable to express himself in the same ways. But through technology that employs augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), he is now able to share to thoughts and feelings. AAC includes any form of communication besides oral speech. When we type, text, draw, or even smile, we are conveying our thoughts, feelings, and wishes through AAC. Those with speech or language problems rely on AAC to supplement or replace speech. In Dillan’s case, it’s a tool in the form of an app on his iPad.

One video, called “Dillan’s Voice,” depicts the young man’s struggle with speech. He lives an active life and goes to school, but is frustrated by his inability to share his thoughts. Dillan inputs his words into his tablet, which then does his speaking for him. “All my life, I wanted so badly to connect with people, but they couldn’t understand because I had no way to communicate,” Dillan says. “I get to experience the world in a very unique way. I could see the wind, hear the flowers.”

Beyond providing Dillan with a voice, the program helps him with his actual speech, which he can practice by seeing his words on the screen and hearing them pronounced out loud.

In another video entitled “Dillan’s Path,” his mother, Tami Barmache, explains that by age two, Dillan’s struggles had become apparent. Deborah Spengler, Dillan’s therapist, recounts identifying Dillan as an example of a child who is “most challenged.” They both state the uncomfortable truth that people assume if someone isn’t speaking or maintaining eye contact, then that person doesn’t have much going on inside their head.

Tami finds it “incredible” to finally hear her son’s voice. Both she and Deborah stress the impact the technology has had in assisting them with Dillan’s development. Beyond that, it has helped the teenager discover more about himself and the world around him.

Dillan sums it all up in one line: “Having a voice has changed everything in my life.”

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