Technology for life: Newtown family expands special needs learning center in Hatboro

MATT SCHICKLING / WIRE PHOTO Stefan Velocci, 17, works on a computer at SI Services in Hatboro last week. His parents, Karen and Peter, have been operating the company at 350 S. York Road since 1997, and recently expanded by creating a Student Learning Center, a separate entity where they focus on technology education for special learners.html-charsetutf-8

By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

Stefan Velocci, 17, was bouncing around the just-expanded Student Learning Center at SI Services, his parents’ business, in Hatboro last week, obviously excited about something.

He gestured to the screen on his iPad, where a YouTube video was playing. He had some downtime after doing some work with his father, Peter, and decided to cruise the Internet.

He couldn’t say what he was watching — Stefan is on the autism spectrum and is nonverbal. But, thanks to his iPad and his parents’ instruction, he would be able to let them know somehow. Stefan uses apps on his iPad in his personal life, to communicate with others, organize his days and for academics as a student at Council Rock High School North.

“There’s a need to infuse technology, which really helps children with autism and special needs,” Karen Velocci, Stefan’s mother and president at SI Services, said. “They’re visual learners, and using technology delivers the content more clearly, interactively and it’s more fun.”

That’s what Karen and Peter Velocci seek to do at SI Services. They’ve both been involved in the technology industry for almost 30 years. Now, Karen is director and president at SI Services and director of technology at the Richboro-based Autism Cares Foundation, which partners with their business. Peter is data systems manager at Upper Dublin School District. They currently live in Newtown.

Their collective experience, coupled with the added space, will allow them to help more special-needs students.

Before, they had just the Technology Learning Lab, which was for educational workshops, staff training and family classes on continuing education. They haven’t moved locations, but expanded the one they already had at 350 S. York Road last month by creating the Student Learning Center, a separate entity where they focus on technology education for special learners.

They’ve been operating out of this location since 1997, but originally focused on system integration and connectivity. When they became parents of a child with autism, their plans quickly changed.

“By understanding the needs of our child in home, school and community, we found a tremendous need to take a right turn in our business as well as our life,” Karen said. “It became our passion in life, and I think it became my purpose.”

MATT SCHICKLING / WIRE PHOTO Karen Velocci is the director and president at SI Services and director of technology at the Richboro-based Autism Cares Foundation, which partners with their business.html-charsetutf-8

SI Services seeks to integrate technology into the lives of special-needs students, so that they can learn not just academic skills, but life and job skills. They focus on things like connecting and turning on a computer, using technology to communicate via email and applications, organizing schedules to coordinate routines and augmenting a student’s individualized education plan with technology.

“Technology is integrated into everything we do, and it’s no different for these individuals, but it takes a lot more exposure to get them to understand how to do these things,” Karen said.

Stefan, for example, took two years to get used to his iPad communication program, Proloquo2go. Now, it’s almost necessary in his routine.

Already, they’ve done work with Lower Moreland, Central Bucks and Council Rock school districts in the past and, with the new space, they can improve their services to accommodate more students.

The approach has a lot to do with understanding. As parents of a child on the autism spectrum, they understand the challenges that arise in education and communication.

“You always have to assume intelligence, that’s the biggest thing about special education. My son may be nonverbal, but don’t assume that it’s because he’s empty,” Karen said. “Some things are not introduced because people may feel that individual is not capable of it. Assume that they’re capable of it.”

For more information, visit www.si-services.com.