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Autism Awareness Month: Communication tool helps give Ottawa student a voice

Autism Awareness Month: Communication tool helps give Ottawa student a voice
Posted: Apr 9, 2021
Categories: KSDE
Author: Ann Bush

9-year-old Flint Wadkins sees gains inside, outside of classroom

A tool designed to meet the communication needs of children with autism has empowered an Ottawa third-grade student.

When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, 9-year-old Flint Wadkins doesn’t hesitate sharing his dream.

“Fireman,” Flint said through his iPad, which is equipped with Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) Words for Life, a full vocabulary language application that has given autistic students a voice.

This is a big difference from just a year ago when he couldn’t string full sentences together or share thoughts about his day with his parents and siblings.

“I thought the pandemic would set him back,” said Flint’s mom, Rebekah Wadkins. “But it didn’t. The last year, he started using sentences – giving us sporadic thoughts. He is talking about random things. That has been amazing”

Flint was born with a cleft palate. He was later diagnosed with autism and severe speech apraxia, a speech disorder in which a child’s brain has trouble coordinating the complex oral movements needed to create sounds into syllables, syllables into words and words into phrases.

He receives occupational, speech and physical therapy sessions.

Flint is in an inclusion classroom at Garfield Elementary School, Ottawa Unified School District 290. Thanks to his preschool teachers, special education teachers and his classroom teacher, Flint has flourished, said Rebekah, who is a gifted education teacher for the Ottawa district.

Randi Helget, Flint’s third-grade classroom teacher, has noticed that he is using his communication device more and forming complete sentences with it.

“He is taking the initiative to use his device to communicate and talk with his peers,” said Helget, who has taught in the Ottawa district for 14 years.

This is the first year Helget has worked with Flint, so it has been a year of learning for both of them, she said. Helget learned about Flint by observing one of the school’s paraprofessionals who has worked closely with Flint and helped him succeed. She took what she learned and began interacting with Flint.

“We have learned together,” she said. “He has taught me a lot. He is fun-loving, caring and helpful.”

He has a way of making everyone around him smile, said Helget and Amanda King, a special education teacher who works with Flint.

“Flint is his own character,” King said. “His smile and laugh are contagious. This year, we’ve seen a lot more determination than in the past.”

Which is exciting for the teachers, and they can’t wait to see what Flint accomplishes during the rest of the school year.

“He has such a persevering spirit,” Helget said.

At home, Flint enjoys playing with his two brothers, JD, a fifth-grade student, and Nathan, a kindergarten student.

“It is always an adventure,” Rebekah said with a smile. “They have really embraced him. I have been blessed with kids who have embraced each other.”

Flint, dressed as Inspector Gadget with a hat and tie, tapped out words on his iPad to explain he’s a huge Dr. Who and Inspector Gadget fan. He also enjoys playing on the playground at school and video games.

He was introduced to the LAMP Words for Life application about four years ago.

“It has helped so much,” Rebekah said. “It has opened doors for him, and it helps with my stress. He’s really started self-advocating. If he can’t see the board in class, he’ll move closer to it. He asks questions.”

Outside of the classroom, Flint has had major successes, too. He is in Cub Scouts and recently took second place in the Pinewood Derby, a wood car racing event of the Boy Scouts of America.

“He loves it,” Rebekah said of Cub Scouts. “Our pack is amazing. Friends and family have rallied around him. It definitely takes a village.”

There are challenging days for both Flint and those who love him. But Rebekah said autism hasn’t stopped Flint from flourishing.

“I want him to grow up and be a productive member of society,” she said. “I want him to grow up kind and loving.”

Rebekah shared a few words of wisdom for parents of autistic children.

“Embrace who they are,” she said. “Hold a high standard for them, and they will rise.”

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