Sunday, August 12, 2012


The past two weeks, Soren attended a day camp called CommuniCamp.  It's for non-verbal "kids" (ages ranged from 5-24) to help teach them how (or build upon their existing skills) to communicate with iPads and Talkers (switch activated recording devices).

It was truly remarkable.  There were a variety of kids in there with serious developmental disabilities.  In the past, I'm sure it would have been easy to just "write them off" figuring they have nothing to say.  But these kids understand far more than folks give them credit for.  It's just that they are fighting through other challenges their bodies have given them--sensitivity to noise, stimming (uncontrollable repetitive body movement), spasticity or hypertonia, and seizures.  Despite all these challenges, a lot of their brains are quite "in tact."

And through the hard work of these kids' parents, teachers, and therapists, these kids have developed ways to communicate that were truly inspiring.

One young woman has a talker that she wears around her neck.  She can page through the selections and ask questions or give answers.  Two campers are able to activate a switch on a Talker with their foot to answer questions.  Two others can activate their iPad via a head switch.

The two teachers at camp--Robbie and Cindy--took the skills that these kids had and built upon them in these intensive sessions from 9:30-2:00.  The kids were never talked down to and they were asked to push themselves.  And every kid delivered.

They did a variety of activities.  Challenging games like "Minute to Win It" where a timer was started by one child and then another child had to see how many times he or she could press a "counting button" before the buzzer went off.

There was also "The Amazing Valenti."  Here kids were able to show off their abilities answering questions.  One young woman has a Talker that has two buttons on it--one labeled 1 and the other 2.  Robbie would record two answer options for each button.  For instance "Plumber" and "Florist."  She would then ask the girl questions like, "Your garbage disposal is clogged.  Who do you call?  A Plumber or a Florist?"  And despite the fact this girl seemed not to listen and appeared too distracted by all her stimming, she answered the questions right every time!  She really was The Amazing Valenti!

We've been working a lot with Soren at home and at school on his iPad, trying to get him to touch the screen to activate games, turn pages, etc.  And Soren has really improved on his.  He did a great job during the Lemonade Stand activity activating his iPad.  We recorded lots of phrases asking people to come buy lemonade.  Every time Soren touched the iPad, the voice was activated and he was doing it a lot on his own.  On the final day of camp, Soren performed in a play and did a fantastic job playing the Duck, hitting his iPad perfectly when he got his cue!

But I was inspired when I saw the boy at camp that had the head switch.  At times, touching things with his hands is overwhelming for Soren.  It can take a lot of prompting and hand over hand encouragement.  And sometimes he really just wants to wring his hands or put them in his mouth.

So, at camp, we tried having him use his head to activate a switch called a Step-by-Step talker and I was really impressed at how Soren did.  He did a great job in Minute to Win It using his head, counting up to 8!  Now, this could have been complete coincidence or involuntary.  After all, Soren moves his head around a lot.  But it's one of those things that if we can work with him, we might be able to make it purposeful.  We could start on a very basic level and then, if it worked, build up to getting a button that could activate his iPad.

It's a long road and these past 2 weeks only started the ball rolling.  I was very inspired by all these kids that showed me that they have a lot to say.  I know Soren does too.  And now I know about more tools to try and help him get there.