iPad is game-changer for those with Down syndrome

Nicky Campos’ fingers fly over an iPad, spelling words on the “Little Speller” application.

Between that application and some of his music on iTunes, such as Usher and Enrique Iglesias, he moves without hesitation and without instruction.

The Apple world of the iPhone, iPad and iTouch seemingly have freed up millions of us to levels of connectivity we never knew. I’m in those millions with my iPhone — maps for my driving, a notepad for my writing, weather for my golf, word games for my Scrabble addiction and The Avett Brothers tunes everywhere.

At my fingertips.


Not to be lost in all that is what Apple means to the special ones among us — kids such as Nicky, who has Down syndrome.

The Down Syndrome Association of the Valley works tirelessly to improve the lives of afflicted individuals and families. They opened shop in Boardman in the fall of 2009. Their office has been buzzing since March, when they started handing out free iPads to 21 families.

In listing the various and immediate ways the iPads have affected the families, DSAV co-founder Kelly Donadio wondered aloud about the bosses at Apple.

“I have no doubt that [CEO] Steve Jobs was not thinking of this impact on us,” said Donadio of the Down syndrome community.

DSAV is an active crowd with fundraising and grant pursuits. Buying 21 iPads is the result of that commitment to one another and their children.

Their annual Buddy Walk is in August, and it fills the Shops at Boardman Park plaza for an afternoon of fun and fulfillment. This Saturday, Best Buy on U.S. 224 is hosting a car show to benefit DSAV.

In addition to the strength in community, the DSAV effort also helps families who don’t always have the extra funds to afford perks such as an iPad.

“For most of our families,” said Donadio, “lots of other purchases would have to come before an iPad.”

Now with them, a new world has opened.

Nicky’s mom, Pattie, was not even going to apply for the iPad as she’s a self-professed “computer illiterate.”

“His teacher said it would be wonderful for him with all the apps,” she said. “I laughed and asked ‘What’s an app?’”

She knows now, as does Nicky.

Previous technological advances were much more basic for kids with Down syndrome. Even tasks on computers largely escaped them due to the muscular challenge of operating a computer mouse.

The slide-and-glide world of the iPad is a game-changer.

Younger Down children will benefit from the verbal and educational applications. Older people with Down syndrome are using the iPad as part of their daily living tools — from task lists to emailing siblings and even Facebook.

“In a world where these kids are often not in control, with an iPad, they are in control,” said Chris Donadio, whose daughter, Marina, has Down syndrome and will make the iPad part of her kindergarten instruction next year.

And Nicky spells away.

Simple words now.

But in time, he should be able to spell his favorite term for his mom.

“What do you call me?” Pattie asks Nicky.

He looks up from the iPad and smiles.

“Hi Sweet Cheeks,” he says.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.

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