It almost looks like a typical classroom. There's the usual semi-controlled chaos, but then you notice the kids here at the Hagedorn Little Village School on Long Island aren't talking, at least not with their mouths. You see, all of these kids have some form of Developmental Delay or Disability. Most have Autism. And many Autistic kids, like nine year old Danny Sgueglia, have serious problems communicating.
Suzanne Sgueglia, Danny's mother had to say, "At eighteen months old, Danny stopped responding to his name. And he actually would crawl up in a ball with a blanket in the corner of the room." In fact, kids with Autism and other mental disabilities were often assumed to be mentally retarded.
Caryl Bank of Hagedorn Little Village School says, "Because they weren't communicating, we thought that they were more delayed than they were. And also labeled as more of a level of retardation." Today, Danny's a different person. And his parents and teachers say it's because he can now express himself with the help of a computerized communicator. A huge change from before. "There were times where it could be almost three hours of crying and you have no idea what he wants," said Danny's Mother.
The communicators come in varying degrees of complezity, from fairly simple picture boards to sophisticated, multi-level computers that are customized for the individual child.
Suzanne remembers the first time Danny told her to leave hime alone and then apologized. "That was a big turning point for me because I realized that there is a very, Danny has a higher level of thinking that I never, that I never realized he had."
What's more exciting is the effect the ability to communicate, even at a fairly basic level, has had on these kids, on their behavior, social interactions, and for some, even the development of some speech.
"The children's behavior has become better. They now have a chance to express themselves. And what we found is while we use the devices the children have actually developed words. So we have some children who haven't spoken in seven or eight years have actually now nine, ten, or eleven words."--Caryl Bank, Hagedorn Little Village School