“The first two years of his life, he laid in a bouncer. His mom and dad were both on drugs, and that was his start,” Tommy’s grandma, Patty, explained. Tommy was two years old when she adopted him, and she’s been bringing him to therapy at Innovative Services NW ever since.
Tommy has a host of diagnoses, from cerebral palsy, to a duplicated kidney, to intellectual disabilities, and progressive hearing loss. He’s now thirteen years old, and continues coming to Innovative for physical therapy, intensive physical therapy, and speech therapy. His hearing loss has made learning to speak difficult because he has trouble hearing his own voice. Megan Knight, Tommy’s speech therapist, is helping Tommy program and learn how to use his new AAC device, which he acquired with the help of The Children’s Center at Legacy Salmon Creek (AAC stands for Augmentative & Alternative Communication). It’s an app on his iPad that displays a grid of icons that Tommy can tap to form sentences. The device serves as Tommy’s voice and allows him to communicate. “The first time he got it, he was going to every page, exploring every button, just to hear what it sounded like, and I just let him go,” Patty said.
Both Megan and Patty have seen a new side of Tommy ever since he started using the device. “His favorite thing to talk about is dinosaurs, so we spend a lot of time talking about T-Rexes,” Megan said. His grandma has programmed a portion of his device to include buttons about dinosaurs and what they like to eat and do, so Tommy’s device is very personalized to what he’s excited to talk about.
He spends hours a day exploring new words and forming new sentences; He’s completely enthralled with the technology. Not only is it giving him a voice and ability to communicate, he’s simultaneously learning to read, and is even using his own voice to repeat what he’s heard the device say. Patty shared the first moment when she heard him utter a phrase on his own, “He came over and patted me because I was crying, he thought he did something wrong, and I said, ‘No, that was great, that was great!’” she laughed.
Tommy is thriving in therapy, and is excited to use his device to communicate with the world. “He’s just an amazing kid. When I first got him, you could look in his eyes, and nobody was there. It was just a blank stare,” Patty shared. “Now you can look into his eyes, and there’s excitement, you can see he’s trying. But without the speech therapist helping and getting us lined up with this technology, where would he be today?”