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Helping a Non-Verbal Student Find His Voice

James Wild points to a symbol on a Smart
Board screen, assisted by speech-language
pathologist Mary Heavey.

Like most teenagers, 16-year-old James Wild  is very social.  Unlike most teenagers, James, who has cerebral palsy, is

James, the son of Cathy Wild of Bedminster, NJ, is a residential student at  Matheny.  In individual speech sessions with Mary Heavey, MS, CCC-SLP, his speech-language pathologist, James has learned to communicate using interactive symbols on an electronic augmentative communications device.  However, because James requires one-on-one supervision and tends to be very physical with equipment, it was not possible to use the DynaVox speech-generating device in his classroom.  To solve this problem, Heavey was able to transfer the software program from the DynaVox onto a computer so that James could communicate on a Smart Board, which is projected on a big screen in his classroom.  “Virtually,” she explains, “we made a large DynaVox.  Pretty much everything you can do on the DynaVox I can recreate for him on the Smart Board.  This has opened up doors for James that weren’t there before.  Now he can participate in everything.”

Before this was accomplished, James’ frustration was also frustrating for his teacher, Peggy Zappulla.  “All of our kids need a way to communicate,” she explains.  “James uses mostly sign language, but, for people who don’t understand sign language, it’s difficult for him to tell them what he wants.  So, Mary came up with this idea, and he uses it very effectively during speech group.”  For example, “We were doing an activity that required the students to identify a part of speech and come up with a word for that part of speech.  Mary set the board up so James would have to choose the part of speech, and then the board would open into another board.  We gave him four choices, and he would have to choose the word.  For him, it’s very effective. Mary has it so when he touches the board, he folds his arms and waits for the next question and then goes back to the board.  It’s really helped him a lot.  He’s able to focus because everything is big, and he can see the visuals.  He can touch it, and he can draw.”

As part of a collaborative team, speech-language pathologists at Matheny provide a complete assessment of each student and patient’s individual needs.  The method being used by James is one example of how technology is adapted to address a specific challenge.  “Educationally,” explains Heavey, “the school works to improve the ability of all students to develop independence in life, and communication is a necessary skill to develop this independence.”  Adds Zappulla:  “My objective is to get James to write sentences, putting the words together using picture symbols.  He’s a very smart kid.  He picks things up very, very quickly.  This improves his ability to express his needs and express his knowledge.  It’s just fantastic!.”                                                  

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