Creative uses of technology present new ways for children with disabilities to communicate


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[Photo credit: Eric Arveson]

Linda Burkhart shows the many technology gadgets used to help children with disabilities or special needs to communicate

By Eric Arveson, Assistive Technology Manager

Linda Burkhart, an international speaker on communication and assistive technology, addressed a packed house at the Pagoda Hotel for two days in Honolulu, April 4th and 5th, 2013. The workshop was a collaborative effort between the UH Deaf-Blind Project, Department of Health- Early Intervention Program and Easter Seals Hawaii.

Burkhart brought with her 39 years of experience as a classroom teacher, trainer, private consultant, and an augmentative communication and assistive technology specialist in a project operated by the John Hopkins University and the Maryland Department of Education. Physically, she brought along creative low tech and communication devices and materials for display, enough to fill four tables. Much of the technology Linda created when working directly with children with significant challenges. Her topic was for the workshop (catch your breath) was “Multi-Modal Communication and Learning Strategies for Children with Significant Challenges and Complex Communication Needs.”

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With humor and professional experiences, Burkhart explained the brain functioning of children with Autism, deaf-blindness, cerebral palsy, cortical visual impairment, RETT syndrome, intellectual disabilities and other neurological disabilities and how communication development can be affected. She explained that the neural networks and cognition are learned through patterns and these patterns are best learned through experience. Communication systematically arranges vocabulary through patterns and, starting early, those patterns become “wired” into our brains.

Burkhart contends that speech is abstract and can be learned very early if presented “in natural contexts with consistent, meaningful patterns.” The multi-modal approach provides input in more than one area, building on the strengths of the child. Burkhart believes that repetition is needed, but must be modified so that the child remains actively engaged in the learning process.

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Burkhart reviewed a number of communication devices and systems and described a method by which the child chooses the language through an interaction between the child and the adult. This system was developed by Gayle Porter (Melbourne, Australia), and is called PODD, Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display. PODD uses picture symbols, representing a full range of communicative functions based upon the child’s communicative intents and is taught through strategies that parallel typical speech and language development.

Linda Burkhart’s website is loaded with handouts, “Make It Take It” ideas and more information about PODD. You can find her at: www.lindaburkhart.com.

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