An innovative technology programme that “has given children the voice they never had before” has been hailed as “a god send”.
The ‘Proloquo2Go’ programme has made such a difference to the lives of four students trialling the project at Rossmar Special School in Limavady that staff are determined to make it available throughout the school.
‘Proloquo2Go’ is an augmentative and alternative communication system that is symbol-supported - a software programme that, when downloaded onto an iPad, serves as the user’s voice when communicating to others.
Principal, Brian McLaughlin, said the school became aware of the programme through a parent who was using it at home. They decided to trial the programme involving four students who have no functional speech. Mr McLaughlin said the programme has opened a whole new world to the students - Ryan (4), Joel (4) Lucas (9) and Jordan (5).
“Jordan finds it very difficult to make himself understood. Now he can converse with his teachers and read books, and the ipad will never run out of patience. It will never mispronounce a word, and it means Jordan can go over the word until he can say it clearly. It has really opened up a whole new world for the students,” said Mr. McLaughlin.
“Some of these kids have no means of telling you what they think, what they want, or what they need, and this programme allows them to do that. We load the vocabularly, they find the words they need, and they put it into a sentence and let us know. They let mum know, their brothers and sisters and friends know what they feel, what they need and what they want and that, for the first time, has given them that an avenue of communication which, prior to this, was closed to them.”
Due to the success of the pilot programme Mr McLaughlin said it will be made available to any child that has a communication difficulty.
“The only requirement for children using this is if they want to communicate and, if they want to communicate, this will give them the means to do it. Communication is our most basic need. How else do we interact and get along with people? We must be able to communicate and that has opened it up to these children,” he said.
Teacher Nuala McNeill said the programme has worked on different levels for different children.
“For the three younger children, it has given them the voice they never had and, for Jordan, it has clarified the speech he already had and made him more understandable,” said Mrs McNeill. “We will continue with the four kids. We’re not going to take it away from them as they’ve made such a success of it, and the progress they’ve made is vast. We want to widen it out and have other children who have enjoyed the benefit of it being in their classroom, and want to use it as well. The next step is to try and roll it out with more children in the school, and we are lucky because most of the staff are trained up in the use of it. It is such a voice for these children. There is no way we could take it away from them now.”
Rachael Smyth, Ryan’s mum, described the programme as a ‘god send’.
“Ryan took to this really fast and he uses it as part of his daily routine. Ryan has finally got a voice,” said Rachael, who explained Ryan isn’t as frustrated or angry anymore trying to communicate his feelings. She said her son also interacts much better at home and at school.
“The Proloquo2go app has been a great help for everyone involved with Ryan, not only for school and in our home, but when we go out or to other family members’ houses. It means now Ryan can communicate with everyone. Most importantly, it has given Ryan a voice until he finds his own and, for this reason alone, I feel the app has been a success.”
Joel’s mum, Jill Graham, said: “We, as parents, have been amazed at how quickly Joel has been able to use the app in a functional way and in a manner that allows him to have a voice in school and at home.”
Like Rachael, Jill has watched her son communicate more eagerly at home, and in school.
“Due to the nature of Joel’s diagnosis we have no certainty of his ability to speak in the future, but we now have a reassurance that he will have a voice.”
Nigel and Rosie Bovaird say their son Lucas has shown definite programme using the app. He had been using the app at home for five years. Now that Lucas uses it at school, the couple say they can enjoy their son at home as opposed to being his teacher. They say the project at school has resulted in several positives, including Lucas becoming more idependent when he is out of school, interacting more with his younger sister, and it has allowed for proper family time.
“May we please take this opportunity to thank Mrs McNeill for her time and dedication in supporting the pilot scheme,” said the couple. “The work required to support this initiative is far beyond the requirements of day-to-day teaching within one classroom.”
Jordan’s teacher, Julie McClelland said the app has been a great success for Jordan, which he uses for speech and as a teaching and learning tool. She said he uses the app for reading and words he is unsure of. Since Christmas he has read four books.
Mrs. McNeill said: “On talking to Jordan he can tell how much he enjoys using his ipad to help him learn new words and, as he can attempt to spell some words , he can use it to help with words he can’t pronounce. Seeing his pleasure is affirmation of the project.”