LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Los Angeles teenager with non-verbal autism is making use of modern technology to find his voice.
Nineteen-year-old Neal Katz cannot speak because of his disabilities.
But with help from an electronic application, he has been able to translate his thoughts into words and become more independent, performing tasks such as going to the grocery store on his own and ordering in restaurants.
He is now flourishing as a member of a Malibu-based non-profit working with children and teens to encourage personal growth.
"I work here in Malibu every Thursday," Neal told CBS2's Stephanie Simmons using the device.
Neal was referring to the Shalom Institute. The organization provides family camps, Jewish holiday educational celebrations, leadership training and service activities, among other opportunities.
"I plant trees, pick fruits... put down drip irrigation," Neal added.
The teen's mother, Elaine Hall, credits the device, as well as the workers at the Shalom Institute, for helping her son to find a new way to express himself and learn through interaction with nature.
"Because of Neal's severe disabilities, he was turned down really from pretty much every camp. And they took kids with special needs but not as severe special needs," she said.
"I heard about the camp and I called (Executive Director) Bill Caplin and I asked if Neal could come to camp. They said let's try it," she recalled.
Neal has now been at the camp for almost nine years. His mother says with time the organization and his electronic device have helped him to become more independent.
He's recently been offered a full-time job at an organic farm.
"He loves it. It's given him so much pride. They pay him. He saves his money. He's so proud of who he is and what he's become as a result of the Shalom Institute," Elaine said.
Neal has made shared his story with others in the past. He was featured in the HBO documentary "Autism the Musical". He has also presented his story to the United Nations.
Neal will also join dozens of other special needs children, families and community members at CBS2 Studios this weekend for Stephanie's Day.
For more information about the event, please visit our website.
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