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Woman with severe autism lost iPad that helps her communicate

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RICHMOND, Va. – A Richmond woman’s niece lost something that helped her communicate with others, and her family.

Shadae VanAlst lives in a challenging world where communication isn’t easy; she has severe autism and is nonverbal.  Her great aunt is raising her like her own daughter after Shadae’s parents both died when she was young.

Although she is 24, her caretakers said mentally she has the cognitive abilities of a two or three-year-old.

The family has had great luck using an iPad to help Shadae  break through communication barriers and it gives her the independence to make her own decisions.

“She selects her meals -- breakfast, lunch, dinner and if we offer a drink she can point to yes or no,” said Juanita Coleman.

She can communicate decisions using the device.

She can communicate decisions using the device.

The Colemans downloaded scores of pictures on the iPad to help Shadae  communicate and understand things like brushing her teeth, learning about safety, even getting her familiar with what a stop sign is.

And that’s not all.

“All of those prayers, the children's music. Bible stories are on there and that helps with her faith formation. So, it's a very difficult device to reproduce,” Coleman said.

But now Shadae’s lifeline is gone.

Shadae needs her iPad. It helps her learn about her world.

Shadae needs her iPad. It helps her learn about her world.

On the way home from her adult daycare center on Saunders Avenue last week, Shadae dropped the iPad while getting into a taxi.

The Colemans said they can already see a difference in her behavior.

“She'll get frustrated because she's trying to figure things out and tell us what she wants,” Coleman said. “She'll point if she can but if we don't figure it out it becomes an anxiety thing for her."

The family is now desperate for whoever found it, to turn it in, and explained how crucial the iPad is to Shadae’s life.

“It's like say, a paralyzed individual and you take their wheelchair -- how do they function? So, I’m praying someone will find it and we won't have to start all over again."