Sunday, March 18, 2007

Notes on Assistive Technologies for People with Autism

An Autism Bulletin reader who watched MTV's "True Life: I'm Autistic" show this week e-mailed me to ask about the technology tool that one of the teenagers profiled in the show used. What was it called and how can we find out more about it?

The communications device that Jeremy uses is called Lightwriter -- it's a device that a television reviewer for The New York Times, recapping this MTV show called "a keyboard that talks for you."

Here is a photo from the website of Toby Churchill Ltd., the company based in Cambridge, England, that makes Lightwriter:

Toby Churchill makes a number of different models of Lightwriter, and I can't verify yet whether this is the one used on the MTV documentary.

What is clear, however, is that this Lightwriter fits into a growing industry for developing, manufacturing and marketing technology-based tools to help people with disabilities including autism spectrum disorders communicate.

For example, David Dikter, executive director for the Assistive Technology Industry Association appeared on ABC News recently to discuss an array of products that help visually impaired people read and people who can't speak communicate with others and express their thoughts and emotions. One of the devices he demonstrated was a communications tool made by a company called Dynavox that allows people with autism to interact with others. (It's also marketed to those who are stroke victims, who have cerebral palsy and ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease.)

You can view an online video of this presentation at ABC News by clicking here. It's about 7 minutes long.

For more about MTV's "True Life: I'm Autistic" you can see:

* MTV's website for the "True Life" series here.

* Read The Times very positive review here. (It will be available to subscribers only very soon.)

* See background information, including links to one of the families highlighted in the show, here.

Other thoughts:

I called this article "Notes on Assistive Technologies" because I realize this is just a start, where mentions go to only fraction of the offerings on the market. You can share more information with me about what you have found helpful -- and why -- in your family's life by posting a comment on Autism Bulletin at the end of this article, or by writing to me at michaelsgoldberg AT

And because many families with autistic kids are strapped for resources, I would just add a note of buyer diligence. If you are looking to buy something, please consider checking out more than one product and ask people who work with your autistic son, daughter or relative what they know about it. Don't buy something based solely on the positive difference you see one product making in one person's life on TV. Check it out with a couple of other knowledgeable people you trust.


Anonymous said...

Great article. I know of some people who have been able to get insurance funding for expensive devices like Lightwriter.
I would also add that if you're looking for simpler items, such as software, etc., I've found the public library system is a great resource, and have been able to borrow many programs recommended by my son's SLP.

Michael Goldberg said...

Thanks! Good tips!