AL Student - AJ Snitko

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New technology makes tasks easier for disabled student. Program offers tools to help CP victim better use computer

By GREGG L. PARKER for the Madison Spirit

A.J. Snitko may prefer playing video games to cramming for a college engineering exam, but he is mastering new technology to have that choice.

A.J., 21, has cerebral palsy. "At home, Mom and Dad are his hands," Shelly Snitko said about the help that she and husband Chris extend to their son.

A.J. has trouble controlling most movements and his speech," Shelly said. It's tough to read a book, take notes in class and write math problems and class papers.

However, Shelly has introduced A.J. to new tools, available with Technology Assistance for Special Consumers program. TASC is affiliated with United Cerebral Palsy of Huntsville and Tennessee Valley Inc.

The tools — some free — give adaptive technology for A.J.'s laptop computer. TASC assistants have worked with him on computer programs, mouse controllers and other aids.

Using an onscreen keyboard, A.J. can move the mouse to click keys for typing. He's currently trying out a math program that can perform calculus. "The most important change is a site called Bookshare.org," Shelly said. "People with disabilities can download soft copies of entire books." No longer does A.J. struggle with holding a book open, flipping pages or highlighting important text.

"It has been amazing to see how much A.J. is benefiting from Bookshare.org," said TASC technology specialist Laura Parks. "He no longer must wait for tapes from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic or have someone help him position the book."

A.J. already could read but Parks said TASC was able "to give him a way to independently access books both for school and enjoyment."

A.J. is 2006 graduate of Bob Jones High School. "I've been attending the University of Alabama in Huntsville and taking classes toward a mechanical engineering degree," he said.

"I can only take two or three classes a semester, so it will take a while," A.J. said. He's also involved in the college ministry at his church. "This takes most of my time because I have to exercise and have therapy to stay strong."

Away from studies, A.J. is a fan of the Green Bay Packers and "Madden NFL," a football video game, and he has a fantasy football team. "I've just started playing computer games and keeping my Facebook page up-to-date," A.J. said.

Lack of oxygen to the brain during birth caused A.J.'s condition. A.J. has "very mild cerebral palsy. However, when he was (eight) years old, he had strep throat which triggered his dystonia, a neurological disorder of movement," Shelly said.

Cerebral palsy is caused by a brain injury or problem during pregnancy, birth or by age three, she said. Causes can be premature birth, head injuries, serious infections such as meningitis, genetic conditions or insufficient blood, oxygen or nutrients before or during birth.

"The exact cause of cerebral palsy is not known," Shelly said.

"We're most grateful that our entire family loves the Lord, so no matter what the future brings, we have a lot of joy," she said.

"We don't know exactly what the future has for A.J., but we're grateful for the people in our lives professionally and personally who take a vested interest in our son to succeed."

With current technology, Chris and Shelly Snitko are confident A.J. will someday have a successful career in a profession he enjoys.

Chris is an engineering manager at Sikorsky Aircraft. Formerly an occupational therapist, Shelly now works as "a homemaker, an appointment maker and a taxi cab driver to school and therapies." Their daughter Lauren is a sophomore biology major at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

For more information, call TASC at 859-8300, send e-mail to mailto:lsnyder@ucphuntsville.org or visit www.ucptasc.org.


The Huntsville Times © 2009 All Rights Reserved.
Used with permission of The Huntsville Times. Reporter, Gregg L. Parker Photographer, Dave Dieter