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Does technology help or hinder autistic kids from speaking?

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Does technology help or hinder autistic kids from speaking?
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Watson Dollar at an early age, after his autism diagnosis
Courtesy of Pam Dollar Facebook

More than 10,000 Mississippians are living with autism, according to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. MPB's Ashley Norwood reports on technology's role in helping them communicate with the rest of the world.

Watson Dollar is 27-years-old and living with autism. The Magee native spoke his last word more than 20 years ago. Pam Dollar is his mother. She says in 2011, Watson made a breakthrough, typing a note on an iPad.

"We had a good foundation in language and reading. And so now, he knows how to spell words. He had that language base. The technology was the tool. The only thing that I regret is we didn't try that sooner," said Dollar.

Dr. Barbara Saunders is with the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She says technology has proven to be helpful. But, if the child is only interacting with a digital device it could discourage them from learning to speak independently.

"If it's just handing a tablet or a phone to a kiddo and then not talking to them, playing with them, or reading to them they may not make an effort to communicate. Kids with autism, even those who can speak, communication is hard," said Saunders.

Saunders says technology is not the end all. It is the gateway to verbal communication.

"And the hope is that ultimately you can withdraw the communication device. For most kids, it's not a forever thing, at least we hope not. It's a tool to get us to where we kinda don't have to use it anymore," said Saunders.

April is national Autism Awareness Month. Ashley Norwood, MPB News.