Holly Academy fourth grade student Leland Steele, 10, has a 7-year-old brother who’s autistic and non-verbal.
When the school participated in the Invent Challenge this past winter, Leland knew what he wanted to make— “The Talker,” a device that would allow nonverbal people to communicate with others by monitoring their brainwaves and then a speaker would say the words.
He hasn’t actually invented the device yet, but his drawings won the competition and awarded him a free week at Camp Invention, which focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), after he gets out of school next month.
“The Talker” would be a foam helmet with a small speaker worn as a necklace and a button for settings.
Leland was “excited” and “surprised” to win.
“My little brother has autism and it’s always been hard that he can’t talk so I thought of that,” he said. His device would also help communicate what animals are thinking to humans, such as expressing that they’re hungry.
“We have brainwave technology I’m pretty sure, so if it measured that and then it could say it out of the speaker. If a dog wanted food or water, it probably wouldn’t talk normal, but it would probably just say if it was thinking of food or water,” he said.
For his submission, Leland drew a dog wearing the device with a talking bubble next to it saying “bacon” repeatedly. “The Talker” could also be used by deaf people.
It took him between one to two days to finish his drawing.
Leland’s mother, Kim Ulicne, said the brothers are very close and Leland is very good at handling his little brother.
“He helps him. He’s a really good big brother,” she said. “We’re just so proud of him. At 10 years old to come up with that. He’s a very kind kid, very thoughtful.”
When asked what he would tell people who don’t know much about autism, Leland said, “I would tell them that they can’t talk or really show emotions in a way they can understand.”