Palm donates smart phones to autistic people

Toronto’s Geneva Centre for Autism is hoping a recent donation of Palm T|X smart phones will help give those suffering with the neurological disorder greater independence in both their personal and business lives.

Palm Canada Inc. announced Thursday the donation of 100 new T|X handheld devices to the centre as part of their e-Learning pilot program – an initiative aimed at helping teens and young adults with suffer from the spectrum disorder. The Geneva Centre said the smartphones are a perfect fit for the program’s participants as they promote visual-learning and communication in autistic individuals.

“In a compact, user-friendly way, this allows them to keep track of their schedules and manage their own life without worrying,” Margaret Whelan, executive director of the Geneva Centre for Autism, said.

The simple fact of knowing that something has a beginning and an end, Whelan said, is extremely important to relieving the anxiety and stress people with the disorder face on a daily basis.

“If you are going to school and you know you are going to be working on a math project from 10:30 to 11:45, although you may not enjoy it, you at least know when it’s going end,” Whelan said. “But without any visual cues or reminders to how long the class is, those with Autism start to have real anxiety as to when it will end. Can you imagine if you showed up at work and no one ever indicated to you when you were going to be allowed to leave?”

For Palm, the program is an extension of similar initiatives the company has undertaken with other neurological disorders, such as amnesia. Jordan Silverberg, enterprise sales manager at Palm Canada, said the organizational tools in the device – including touch screen, agenda, and address book – lends itself well to replacing paper-based visual cues and reminders.

“The feedback we’ve gotten so far have been very positive,” Silverberg said. “It’s easy-to-use and they love the electronic cues and prompts on the device. It’s a huge assistance that works to replace paper cue cards, organize the individual’s life and give them a sense of independence.”

But despite the effect the phones might have on an Autistic individual’s personal life, Whelan said, the devices will have an impact on their working lives as well.

“For people on the spectrum in the business world, we know there are natural challenges to successful employment,” Whelan said. “One is following daily routines, which we know addresses, and the other is learning how to fill their leisure time during lunch and coffee breaks. The fact that these devices allow games or music to be loaded onto them gives individuals something to do to fill out their spare time and no longer leaves them the odd man out.”

In addition to that, she said, the anxiety provoking situations of having to go to a big meeting or appointment can also be alleviated with the device. “If they need to help calm themselves down to get to the job at hand, having a loaded program that reminds them what they need to do in a particular situation will stop them from being nervous,” Whelan said. “In using the device will, they will not attract attention to themselves. This allows them to quietly use it to and get control of their lives again.”

But maybe one of the most important aspects of all, according to Whelan, is the overall boost to one’s self-esteem the devices can provide.

“It’s not very cool to be carrying around big bulky paper reminders and visual schedules, so there’s a very strong cool factor associated with these Palms,” she said.

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