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How tablets helped unlock one girl's voice

Carly Fleischmann, with her therapists and her father, learned to communicate through technology.
Carly Fleischmann, with her therapists and her father, learned to communicate through technology.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Technology like the iPad allows Carly Fleischmann to have voice heard despite inability to speak
  • Carly regularly relies on the ProLoQuo2Go app
  • Using a phone dialer for seniors and her iPad, Carly was able to order a pizza for the first time

(CNN) -- Carly Fleischmann lived most of her childhood trapped in a body that could not communicate clearly with the outside world.

She couldn't speak and had few fine motor skills. She'd been diagnosed with severe autism at age 2.

Even with the progress that has been made with therapy techniques and medication, Fleischmann was still a mystery to her own family. Who was she? What would her voice be like if she could speak? These were all questions that would go unanswered until Fleischmann began to type.

One day, during a session with one of her therapists, Fleischmann began to feel sick. Unable to speak to convey her condition, Fleischmann went out on a limb and took the keyboard. She typed "Help teeth hurt." This would be the breakthrough that eventually allowed Fleischmann to communicate with the outside world.

A life without smartphones and other mobile devices would be hard to imagine for those of us who are phone-clutching, tablet-wielding mobile device addicts. How would we be able to live without Facebook or Instagram always in our pockets? How could I check my bank account balance while I'm out shopping?

But for Fleischmann and many others like her these devices give so much more: a voice.

The first-generation iPad was released in the U.S just after Fleischmann's 15th birthday. Her family immediately drove from their home in Toronto to purchase one. They knew that the iPad would be a turning point for her to have freedom and the ability to communicate like never before.

Fleischmann began to type on a desktop computer at age 10, but it was a difficult and slow progress, one letter at a time.

"She finds typing extremely frustrating," said her father, Arthur Fleischmann. "She wants a voice more than anything else. In her case, it's even worse, because she has very severe OCD, and she gets anxious, and when she gets anxious, she freezes. It's still frustrating that she can't get her thoughts and feelings out."

As Fleischmann began to type more, her family and her therapists got to know her. She was a sharp-witted, bright girl who knew pop culture. She cracked jokes and poked fun at her brother, complaining about his teenage boy smell. She had her own sense of style. But most important, Fleischmann was tenacious. She made it clear that she was willing to fight to achieve her goals.

Before the iPad, she tried several mobile communication devices. These tools had text-to-speak functionality, but she didn't really take to them.

"She rejected her early communication devices like the Lightwriter and the DynaVox because she felt they made her look disabled," her parents said. "She doesn't think of herself as disabled; she thinks of herself as a kid with autism. But she doesn't want that to define her."

For most people, the iPad opened a whole new way to send and receive information. It let us learn, communicate and socialize in a way we never had before.

For Fleischmann, the iPad was a game-changer for a much different reason.

It gave her independence, and the apps made it easy to communicate her thoughts without painstakingly typing each letter on a computer. And because it was deemed "cool," it was enticing to her. It did not make her feel different.

As with any other teenager, Fleischmann's "cool" points went up, and it helped her fit in.

"It looked totally cool to be walking around with an iPad, and she much prefers that," her father said.

Fleischmann says she loves her iPad and says, "thanks to it, I participate in class in a whole new way. "

Fleischmann now has two iPads and a laptop she uses regularly. The app she uses most is the fully customizable ProLoQuo2Go. When Fleischmann goes to camp, for example, she can pre-load photos and words associated with camp to more efficiently communicate with her peers. The app comes at a steep price of $189.99. But the freedom and ease with which she can communicate clearly make it worthwhile.

Fleischmann and her father have written a book detailing her struggles and triumphs with autism. She has garnered the attention of celebrities and autism advocates like Ellen DeGeneres, Sen. John Kerry, Larry King and Temple Grandin.

Recently, she joined Kerry on a panel to discuss how important technology is to those with autism.

Carly Fleischmann sits on a panel to discuss technology and autism with Sen. John Kerry.
Carly Fleischmann sits on a panel to discuss technology and autism with Sen. John Kerry.

"Technology has allowed me to communicate, learn social skills, implement relaxing techniques and played a crucial part in helping me how to spell," she said. "To me, technology is the key to unlocking autism."

Watch: Carly Fleischmann speaks with Sen. John Kerry

Facebook, Twitter and blogging also play a big part in Fleischmann's ability to communicate with the world. She continues to amaze her family every day.

Carly uses a phone dialer and an iPad to help her make phone calls.
Carly uses a phone dialer and an iPad to help her make phone calls.

Her assistant, Howard, found a dialer attachment, and using that, ProLoQuo2Go and a speakerphone, Fleischmann can call friends.

Follow Carly on Facebook

Her dad says that while Fleischmann may not have the fine motor function to do things like tie her shoes, he hopes she will be able to attain more independence through technology.

Fleischmann says her next goal is to attend university. She has her eye on UCLA and says she wants to get her bachelor's or her doctorate like her idol, Temple Grandin.

Find out more about Carly Fleischmann's story here.

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