Five Year Old Henry Brings Awareness...and Smiles...to the Clifton Community
In recognition of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Awareness Month, Amy Ferranti, Special Education Technology Integration Coach, and Heather Polk, Speech and Language Pathologist at School #17, presented to the Board to bring awareness to these important accommodations. Augmentative means “to supplement,” and includes anything that makes communicating easier, like pointing. Alternative means “instead of” and includes things that replace spoken communication, like speech-generated devices. AAC devices are used by most people every day, such as using a cell phone to send text-based messages, and are instrumental in assisting those who have difficulty with verbal speech due to developmental delays, stroke, or acquired disorders. AAC can also be unaided, not requiring a device, like gestures, facial expressions, and sign language.
Ferranti shared many different examples of AAC devices that are used in the district and said that there are currently 63 students who use a high-tech AAC device (iPad). The district provides training on these devices for parents/guardians and staff throughout the year. LoriAnn DeSimone is one of those parents and when she learned about AAC Awareness Month, she asked Ferranti if the BOE would recognize it at a meeting.
DeSimone came to the podium with her five-year-old son Henry, who demonstrated his own AAC device by touching a series of buttons and producing the sentence, “Hi. My name is Henry” to a round of enthusiastic applause. Henry, who goes to School 17, has a rare disorder that affects muscle coordination and he does not yet talk in the traditional way. Thanks to his AAC device, he does indeed communicate, however. Several commissioners asked him questions about himself and he answered using his device, deftly demonstrating its tremendous benefit. He told the commissioners the members of his family, what his favorite color is (it’s orange), his teacher’s name, and more…all the while smiling and giggling with excitement.
DeSimone explained that when Henry was a baby, she and her husband were unsure if he would ever be able to walk or speak. Her goal was to ensure that Henry would be as functional and independent as possible. Following years of physical therapy that started when he was just nine months old, Henry now walks independently and thanks to his AAC device, he can now speak. DeSimone said that Henry is the only non-verbal student in his self-contained kindergarten class at School 17. It’s LLD (Language Learning Disabled) Mild/Moderate, but he was placed in the M class because he’s so proficient in communicating through his tablet and has excellent receptive language skills.
The proud mom said that she used to dream of her young son walking and talking one day but she no longer needs to. “I have heard his voice…I hear his mind and his heart,” she said, praising the technology that allows her joyful son to speak.