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High school junior Priya Krishnan gave her autistic cousin Abinav the gift of a touchscreen mp3 player -- an iPod touch -- simply because she thought he would enjoy playing music and games on it.
But pretty quickly it became clear that Abinav, who was in fifth grade at the time, could use the device to better connect with the world around him.
Krishnan says that there is one program, for example, that displays cartoon faces, which express different feelings.
"This one's for happy," she says as a pink cartoon smiley-face pops up on the screen, and the device emits the sound of laughter.
"After seeing the impact it had on his life, I got the idea to use technology to have an impact on people's live," she says.
But Krishnan also knew many families of autistic children couldn't afford a state of the art smartphone or mp3 player.
"Human beings are noisy, and unpredictable, and they react in myriad ways, and sometimes you don't know how to get them to do what you want when you have autism," Gibbons says.
She says computers have long been used to bridge the communication gap in the autism world, but it's never been this easy or this portable.
Through an essay contest, Project Touch and Autism Speaks will be giving the devices to 50 needy families of autistic children later this spring.
The next step? Getting technology companies to give them the devices for free, and taking the contest national.