A few weeks ago, I got an email asking me to check out a tool for educational professionals and parents: Fast ForWord. The tool is designed to help students learn to read, and increase their reading ability. The system is designed to work with a speech and language provider, of which there is just one in the state of Utah. It works much like a video game, which makes it popular with children.
What is really interesting is that the technique has been clinically proven to work. The system was developed jointly by Rugters University and Northwestern University, and shown to build long connections in the brain between the language hemisphere and other parts of the brain.
What are long connections? Well, think of them as highways between different regions of the brain. Whenever you need to do something complex, like, say, reading. Here you are taking a pictograph (the alphabet), and processing those symbols into letters. Those letters are then processed into phonetic sounds to form a word, and that word needs to be associated with something real and tangible. For the neuro-typical brain, i.e., most brains, this is a simple process because of long connections. The highways are able to move each step to the right place quickly and easily.
The brain of a person with Autism, however, has a problem. They don't have as many of these long connections across the brain, and therefore instead of having a highway, it's more like a dirt road trying to move the information around. By contrast, local connections are huge and massive compared to the neuro-typical brain. So a lot of processing can get done locally, but not a lot can get done across the brain.
So tasks like Reading become burdensome, and as language can be closely related to the written form, their speech can suffer as well. And this is exactly what Faster ForWord had addressed in their program.
I got to speak with Dr. Martha Burns Ph.D, and part of the study and development of Fast ForWord. She told me of a case study where a young man with High-Functioning Autism had gone from non-verbal to speaking in a few years. He is now studying at MIT and about to graduate. She provided a lot of personalized information for my son which I intend to use, and recommended our school system look into various tools for him specifically.
After speaking with Dr. Burns, I started going through some of the demonstration tools that are provided on the Fast ForWord website. They seemed simple enough, and I think my son would enjoy them. As to whether or not they have helped him, it's too soon to tell. First, because there is only one provider locally, and second it's only been a couple of weeks since I have known about the program. But I would be willing to try it and see.
So for any of you out there who have tried using Fast ForWord, or have it available in your current school curriculum, I would be pleased with any reports back. How has it worked for you? Would you recommend it for others? What is your take on the program?