From Sunday: Lancaster students using speech-generating devices

Twelve-year-old Bonnie Robinson might not know it, but a lot of her peers at Forest Rose School in Lancaster look up to her. That’s because, despite having cerebral palsy, which makes it difficult for her to communicate verbally, Bonnie has managed to find her voice with the help of a speech-generating device called a DynaVox Maestro. The device, which Medicaid approved for her, allows her to expand her vocabulary and verbalize her wants and needs in a way she couldn’t before. “Bonnie is a great role model for students — they all want to be like her,” Crystal Bates, school-age speech therapist at Forest Rose, said as she watched Bonnie participate in a group activity with her class. Bonnie’s ability to better communicate with others is something Bates and preschool-age speech therapist Megan Worthington want for all the students at Forest Rose School. The school board recently allocated money to buy seven speech generating devices and four iPads, which staff members are using in the classroom on a daily basis, as part of a Forest Rose School Communication/Technology Initiative that kicked off in summer 2011. The goal of the initiative, which was started by Bates and Worthington, is to help students with disabilities obtain their own SGDs through Medicaid or private insurance funding. To be approved for a device of their own, each child must go through an evaluation process with at least three different devices in order to show they can properly use them, Bates said. A doctor then must sign off that a device is medically necessary for the child. So far, the initiative has been successful. Since obtaining the DynaVox Maestros in March, two students have been approved to receive their own through Medicaid or private insurance and two other students are awaiting approval, Bates said. “It’s a slow process that is done in baby steps,” Bates said. “Each individual child is different and there is a learning curve there. … Some kids are ready for one after six months; for others, it may take two to three years.” However, it’s a process Bates and Worthington say is worth the time and effort, as 90 percent of the school-age children at Forest Rose are nonverbal and could benefit greatly from the technology. “The children are just drawn to this technology and they almost look at us when we come into the room like, ‘Is it my turn?’” Worthington said. “They know they’re going to have an opportunity to communicate during their speech therapy time when their teacher has these devices out, and I really feel like we’ve already seen a decrease in some behaviors and frustration.”

Finding their voice

Speech generating devices such as DynaVox Maestros have a touch screen and pages of pictures that represent vocabulary word meanings. After a student is able to build up their vocabulary, they can begin to put sentences together. The words and sentences are transmitted through the device by an electronic voice. It’s something Bonnie was able to …..

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