Educators test system that allows non-verbal autistic student to - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Educators test system that allows non-verbal autistic student to 'talk'

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Jack Allnut never learned to talk. His mom Amy says he's been, “completely silent, non-verbal his whole life.”

But Jack, who is now 12, has shocked his family, by communicating through typing.

In 2012, Jack's parents took him to a place called The Halo Clinic in Austin, Texas. At first he used stencil letters to spell out words.

His dad Bob says, “At the end of the week, he typed, ‘I am really smart. I am trying.' We were both blubbering, crying messes.”

Jack is locked inside a body that doesn't let him communicated. His mom says, “When he started asking questions about the stock market, that's when we knew he might have some capacity. Something is going on.”

What Jack is doing is called “facilitated communication.” Past research suggests that perhaps facilitators might be influencing what the children typed.

Gwendolyn Mason, Montgomery County, Maryland's Director of Special Education Services, says, “It has not been proven to be an effective mode of communication. So, (we were) approaching this particular pilot with tremendous caution.”

Mason and the county's Chief Innovation Officer, Dan Hoffman, were intrigued. Mason observed five boys, including Jack. One of them typed to her.

She says, “What he stated was, ‘Help me to find a school where I can learn.' That's heavy stuff. That was pretty compelling for me, and he did that independently.”

So, last Fall, the school system launched a pilot program to test the facilitated communication method. It's expensive. Each child needs a facilitator, who works with the child the way Amy helps Jack at home. Amy says, “In my opinion, it wasn't ‘nice to have.' The ability to communicate is pretty inherent to your ability to learn.” She says there is no doubt it is working for Jack, “We see it every day.”

The students in the program are now out of special education and in a class with typical kids. Asked if he likes it better, Jack types, “Yes. Challenging. School is finally challenging. School is finally challenging.”

Jack types that he wants to get married, and be a stockbrokers. But first he has to walk the dog. And tackle middle school.

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