For many parents, the endless string of jokes that can come from a five year old are endured rather than embraced. Not so for the parents of five year old Charlie. His corny jokes are not only funny, but something to be celebrated.
In many ways, Charlie is like any five-year old. He loves super heroes, video games, cars and hanging out with his older brothers. He heads off to his kindergarten class each day; lunch box, back pack and something special in tow – his iPad mini using it for purposes strikingly different than what may readily spring to mind.
Charlie’s iPad is a critically important tool that supports him in his daily life. It helps Charlie to communicate with his family, classmates and teachers. It is what allows him to tell his class and family those corny jokes, to learn new words and to share the excitement of conveying his activities over the past weekend. Until last year, this wasn’t easily accomplished.
Arising from a complex diagnosis and health history, Charlie faces challenges in his day-to-day communications that make it difficult for others to understand him. His family was told he might not survive birth. But, Charlie not only survived, he overcame a bilateral cleft lip and palate, three heart surgeries and tubes in his ears. The result of his medical challenges and months at a time in hospital, during critical formative times, means that while Charlie can speak, his language is not clear and words are not fully formed.
The result was a young boy who long experienced difficulty joining in social situations. Unable to articulate his thoughts, needs or feelings, he was headed down a frustrating and often lonely path.
Then, last year, Charlie’s family was directed to the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre and the Augmentative Communications Program. Through the Program, they were able to test more than 10 different communicative tools, carefully evaluating each and considering how they would fit into Charlie’s life. Some were not a good fit - either too large or drawing too much attention to young Charlie. Finally, the team suggested an iPad mini. It was a great size for Charlie and fit in perfectly with a class of kindergartners who thought nothing of seeing their classmate with the familiar device. This unique program supports children with communication disorders and donations made to the Foundation allow us to fund the tools that will help children to find their voice.
The Children’s Centre team then helped Charlie and his family to obtain and set up the iPad through the Assisted Devices Program. With the support of the OCTC Foundation stepping in where government funding leaves off, the Centre was able to cover much of the cost associated with the iPad, and more importantly, the cost of the specialized language program that allows Charlie to use photos and icons to articulate his words. Supported by his iPad, it means Charlie can speak words or sentences that he selects, able now to join in and have his say!
The Centre also worked with Charlie and his family to learn to use the iPad effectively. They enrolled Charlie in a formal research pilot project that has been critical to his success. A number of lessons were provided that included working with Charlie to help him to use his iPad to speak, learn and read. They helped his family to learn to effectively use the iPad as an augmentative communication device – something that was new to them too. The Children’s Treatment Centre team even spent several sessions with Charlie’s teacher helping her to understand the tools, and to find ways to engage Charlie in the class through his iPad.
The results have been incredible. Charlie is thriving. His iPad is another tool that allows him to reach his fullest potential. He is using the iPad to support his growing language skills, and to communicate with others outside of the home. Charlie uses his iPad at restaurants to interact with the waitress, and to order his own meal. Now, he can tell his doctor how he’s feeling – in his own words. He’s teaching classmates all he’s learned about tornadoes and he’s making up jokes on his own – and saving them on his iPad. This past Christmas, Charlie and Santa were able to have that important discussion one-on-one about what might need to be under the tree. He is a little boy whose voice is being heard and whose horizons have expanded tremendously over the course of the past year.
The augmentative communication program has changed Charlie’s life. “It’s amazing – Charlie talks a mile a minute now!” says his mother Angie. “As a parent, you want to do anything and provide every opportunity to support your child. The Children’s Treatment Centre helped us to find the tool that would best work for Charlie.”
“But most of all, they have always been looking to the future and what Charlie will be able to do. They set us up with a tool for Charlie that will grow with him. They’ve given us the skills to change and modify the program to fit Charlie and his growing vocabulary and skills. That’s exciting.”