A handing over ceremony took place this morning at the Stella Maris Primary School in Belize City. Autism Belize partnered once again with Cellular World to deliver the “Gift of Communication” to seven non-verbal students. The donation comes in the form of electronic tablets equipped with an Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) application that produces electronic voice outputs, allowing the individuals to communicate. Christy Castillo-Almeida, founder and executive chair of Autism Belize shared with our newsroom the importance of the donation.
Christy Almeida, Founder, Autism Belize: “We’ve been calling it the Gift of Communication. We’ve been trying to help kids, youths, young adults because some of them go up in ages who have no form of communication, limited or no sign, no text and so they need a voice. They need to be heard. They understand what they’re saying, they know what they’re doing but they can’t speak it, they can’t share it in whichever form. So by getting a tablet with an AAC device this gives them a way to communicate much like sign or another language it’s an accepted form of communication. So when I reached out to Stella Maris I thought maybe there’d be ten kids, I didn’t realize the extent. They have over forty five children plus the ones that I know about from our parent support group our list went up to about fifty kids who do not have another form of communication. And so the first time we were only able to give one tablet but that sparked an interest and we had really good citizens immediately go out to Cellular World and purchase the tablet, some made donations to cover the cost of the app because actually the app costs more than the tablet for a lifetime thing and so we’re really trying to help. So this time we were able to do seven, hopefully next time we can do even more because we’re just gonna keep whittling down that list until all of them have. And then we want to continue with it because it’s not just about giving it and hope that they figure it out they have to learn it so we’re partnered with Project Speech who will be doing coaching with the parents to show them how to set it up, how to use it , how to get their children to register what it is and work through it and then we’re working for this summer to come in and train all of the Stella Maris teachers about how to use this specific app as well so that when the kids bring it to school the teachers know how to engage and help build the language too.”
Almeida, whose son is also non-verbal, spoke about how the application will help parents like her to tackle everyday issues when dealing with special needs children.
Christy Almeida, Founder, Autism Belize: “It’s one of the hardest things for me as a mom. You know if I could see the frustration on his face and I didn’t know what and I’ve had sometimes my mom would look at me and she goes “What’s he doing ? What does he want?” and I’m the mom I should know what my son wants and there were times when I absolutely didn’t and it wasn’t until after I take him to the doctor and the doctor says “Oh he has an ear infection.” or “Oh he’s got a stomach bug.” and we don’t know this because he can’t tell me his stomach hurts or he can’t tell me “I’m hungry.” or “I’m thirsty.” or “I’m cold.” and so that’s one of the hardest things and so – we tried, we tried sign language, we tried text and nothing really stuck he’d get a little bit but not enough to work and so when we started with the app it was sort of a game changer and we’re still working on it. We keep learning the language but it helps so much that he can go and grab it and say “Mom I want to go to the pool” or “I want this.” and it’s like okay or he can tell his teacher “I’m frustrated.” I’m tired of the work right now it’s too much. and that way we’re getting this conversation we’re preventing less meltdowns, less aggression it’s so much better once your child is able to communicate in whatever format. For me at this point in the game we still work on verbal language but that doesn’t matter as long as my son can communicate with me, with his teachers, with his friends that’s the gift of a voice, it’s wonderful.”
Almeida added the organization’s efforts will continue and if anyone would like to make a donation they can contact her via Autism Belize’s Facebook page.