Giant Steps Toronto – A Step in the Right Direction
Once a previously neglected room used only as a meeting space, Giant Steps’ new library now flourishes with the latest technology for autistic children. Touch-screen white boards, iPads and an Xbox Kinect are some of the innovative tools this school and therapy centre has incorporated to help build the communication, academic, social and lifestyle skills of its students.
Howat Noble, president of Giant Steps, believes that adopting these modern technologies has made the library unique. “It engages the child,” he says, “and once you’ve got the child engaged with this technology, you can really accelerate communication skills.” As social interactions improve, so too does the child’s connection with friends and family.
From the room’s colours to its seating areas, the library is designed with features specific to the children’s needs. Using the Smart Board, a touch-screen whiteboard, children learn a range of academic and social skills, while systems like Xbox Kinect teach them how to interact with other students. The result is a space that is, as director of development Joanne Scott-Jackson says, “certainly one of our kids’ favourite places at the school.”
Andre, a student at Giant Steps, exemplifies this enjoyment. When asked what his favourite features of the library are, his father, Yves Gadler, answers, “It’s got everything he loves in the world: music, books and technology. Especially the technology part.”
With an app called Proloquo2Go, technology like the iPad has opened up a world that Yves and his wife, Deidre, never dreamed of for their son. “He’s got a voice now. It’s changed our lives because I know what he wants,” Gadler says. Storing a wealth of information such as images and photographs, Proloquo2Go allows Andre and other students to string together a sentence by navigating various menus and selecting pictures that show what he wants to communicate. The valuable results continue to shock his
“He’s eight years old so he’s a developing child but he’s delayed, he’s got mental challenges. But there’s so much going on inside of him that we wouldn’t know, so the technology part is one big part of how he’s really been able to open up his world,” says Gadler.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological condition that typically appears within the first three years of life. One in every 88 children have ASD, with boys four times more likely to have the condition than girls. It impacts normal brain development and has no cure. According to the Autism Society of Canada, limited professionals and funding for autism are obstacles that need to be overcome. With school board support, the help of dutiful parents and generous sponsors such as The Bridle Bash Foundation, Giant Steps has been able to provide kids with the attention and resources they need to integrate them into the school system.