New Business Uses iPad Apps to Teach 'Special Learners'
Newtown resident Karen Velocci opens Specialized iPad Services in Hatboro. The learning lab incorporates iPad applications into students' individualized educational plans.
When she realized that her son Stefan's developmental disability prevented him from speaking, Newtown resident Karen Velocci set out to give him a voice.
That was 10 years ago. Today, Stefan, now a 16-year-old Council Rock student, uses applications on his iPad to communicate, or to make requests for a glass of iced tea, Velocci said.
The lure of games, music and Youtube videos—with the proper parental controls and supervision—has also encouraged an otherwise unsociable Stefan to roller skate, ice skate and to feel "comfortable in social situations."
"It's a great way to give him a voice," said Velocci. "This gives him the confidence. It helps build his social skills."
Velocci, who has a technology background, as well as an early childhood development degree, launched an iPad enrichment program for "special learners" like her son, in 2009 with six students.
Through the 90-minute parent educational workshops and individualized trainings, which, at the outset, were offered primarily in Bucks County, Velocci has helped more than 100 people with autism and other learning disabilities harness the power of ever-evolving technology and use educational games like Presidents Versus Aliens and communication programs like Proloquo2Go to succeed in and out of the classroom.
"You can't teach someone if you don't have their attention," Velocci said during a tour of Specialized iPad Services , which she opened in a 1,200-square-foot space at 350 S. York Road in Hatboro recently.
The learning lab, analysis room and research and development center is aimed at helping her to "grow" the business she inadvertently began a decade ago while using an iPod and Beatles songs as motivators to help her son.
Velocci said she works to first "empower parents" on how to use the technology to best help their children.
"We're seeing neighboring communities don't have this kind of education," Velocci said of her business, which is run primarily by her, with support from the Autism Cares Foundation, as well as volunteer professional coaches. "This is our life, so this is how we try to help people."
Linda Kuepper, Autism Cares Foundation co-founder and CEO, said she met and befriended Velocci when their autistic sons were in middle school.
Kuepper lauded Velocci, the foundation's director of technology, for her expertise in having 800 iPad applications, not only at her fingertips, but ready to implement depending on her client's needs.
One of Velocci's students, along with her 14-year-old non-verbal son Michael, Kuepper said the interactive approach has helped him to communicate better and learn more.
"My son has seizures. He had a seizure one day," Kuepper said. "I thought we lost him."
When he woke three hours later, Kuepper said she asked him how he was feeling. He immediately grabbed his iPad, launched Proloquo2Go and went into the "feelings" category.
"He pushed, 'I'm scared,' " Kuepper said.
For others, Kuepper said different apps can help learners with spelling, or varying degrees of math, ranging from basic addition, to more complicated multiplication.
"It's finding out what somebody's interests are and using it to help," Velocci said. "There's so many creative things you can do."
For Stefan, his interests are in his iPod and iPad and seeing himself in videos. His father, when trying to teach him to ice skate, put the device in his pocket and skated across the ice. Stefan, Velocci said, had no choice but to follow, and in doing so, learned how to skate.
"It's his whole life," she said of the iPad. "This is Magic Kingdom to him."