Success & News Stories

Chad Roberts

Chipping Away at Communication Barriers Puts
Teen at Ease

We all know how refreshing it can be to put a thought into words, then release it for others to hear. Through years of trial and error, along with nonstop guidance and nurturing from trusted adults, that liberating facet of self-expression has become a reality for Chad Roberts, 16, of Canton, Georgia, though autism complicates his efforts to relate to the world through spoken language.

Introduced to speech communication technology at age 10 with a borrowed DynaMyte 3100, Chad learned through repetitive modeling to use the device to express wants and needs. Its dynamic display screen and synthesized speech, a combination of tools missing in the static devices he previously tried with little success, helped him make meaningful connections between visual and spoken language. Chad eventually got a DynaMyte 3100 of his own that he used for nearly five years before moving on to the DynaVox MT4 that since 2006 has served as his primary voice.

Kellie Roberts believes the technology has a stress-busting quality for her son, who also struggles with the effects of bipolar disorder, mental retardation and pica, a condition commonly occurring in children with developmental disabilities that manifests itself in craving and eating inedible substances such as leaves and paper.

“He uses the device every day, every hour. Without it, he would fall apart. It calms him, puts him at ease.”

At one time, Chad pulled his mother to the refrigerator when he wanted a drink. Through similarly aggressive behaviors, he demanded to go for car rides in the middle of the night.

The days of giving into him are history, said Kellie Roberts, a single parent. “I don’t have to anymore. Now that he can tell me what he wants, he won’t always get it, but he knows I understand and that helps him cope.”

Chad has progressed from simply voicing desires (“Drink”) to making polite requests (“I’ll have a can of pop, please”) with the aid of the device and learns new symbols quickly when they’re relevant to his life. Preprogrammed messages let him assert his need to take a break from activities, ask for change at the store and greet new conversation partners.

“We gave him the form of communication to teach him the function of communication,” said Vicki Clarke, M.S., CCC-SLP, Chad’s speech-language pathologist. “We’re not sure if he understands the vocabulary but he understands the positive response that he gets.”

Chad is enjoying a banner year at Mountainbrook School at L.R. Tippens Educational Center since enrolling there last fall. Among the new opportunities he has embraced is a weekly work experience setting tables and folding boxes at a popular pizza restaurant before the lunch crowd arrives. Through the MT4, which Chad calls “Buddy,” he can tell others how many boxes he folded that morning or that he had a good day. He can tell how he wants to spend his free time, whether by visiting his older brother Justin at his apartment or swimming at the local pool. Chad also enjoys listening to country music on the MT4’s MP3 player.

Perhaps above all, Kellie Roberts said, the technology gives Chad a way to meet the challenge of reaching out.

“I have Chad sit down and share information with anyone who comes to the house.”

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