“Want to go and do science?”
Anastacia Marquez, a 9-year-old student at Sunrise Elementary School in Las Cruces, N.M., pauses for a beat, pondering the question from one of her teachers, Melissa Flavell.
Marquez extends her left index finger, and presses the corresponding answer on her iPad: “Yes.”
It’s a simple exchange between student and teacher—one that was more difficult a few months ago.
Marquez has lived with multiple brain tumors since she was less than a year old. Those tumors—there are now five—and the seven neurosurgeries she has endured silenced her speech. Through a combination of mouthing and whispering, Marquez can identify many letters of the alphabet, and their corresponding sounds. But her ability to communicate verbally is significantly limited.
“When she’s happy, we know she’s happy,” said Sunrise principal Brian Peterson, who said Marquez beams at music class. “But the poor squirt isn’t always happy … She’s been through a lot, and we don’t always know how to help.”
Thanks to Peterson’s love of gadgets, dedicated work by Sunrise staff members, and a popular piece of technology, that’s starting to change.
Marquez communicates more precisely and efficiently now, thanks to a specialized application on a school iPad called Proloquo2Go. Teachers can ask Marquez direct questions, and she answers by pressing an icon on the iPad’s touch screen.
The device is the property of Sunrise Elementary, but Marquez carries it home so she can take advantage of the enhanced communication ability it provides.
Maria Marquez, 10, is one of Anastacia’s three sisters. She also attends Sunrise Elementary. Maria said Anastacia used to communicate primarily with nods—or by patting her head when it ached.
That’s different now.