Success & News Stories

Damian Cora

Lourdes Cora feels a happy mix of awe and appreciation when she thinks of how the DynaMyte3100 bridged the communication gap that existed between her son Damian and most of the world for the first six years of his life. At the age of four, he was diagnosed with autism and apraxia, an expressive language disorder. Now nine years old, Damian repeatedly proves his skill in using the DynaMyte, whether to voice an urgent message ("Someone's knocking on the door") or to talk about his favorite books and games. He even has his daily schedule programmed into the device so he can keep Mom informed as he progresses through the routine of waking up, eating breakfast, brushing his teeth and getting dressed. The device helps Lourdes to teach her son good manners.

"What do you say, Damian?" she'll ask after someone hands him a treat.

Damian then presses the "Thank you" button on the DynaMyte to show his appreciation.

"I love the device," Lourdes said. "It's a big, big help."

And Lourdes is a tremendous help to young augmented communicators who receive services at Blake Medical Center's speech therapy clinic and use DynaVox devices. While Damian attends his two weekly sessions at the clinic, she programs the devices for the other children.

"If I need something to be put on a device, she does it on the spot," says speech-language pathologist Liz Brown, M.A., CCC-SLP. "She asks nothing in return."

Lourdes takes pride in all that Damian has accomplished since he got the DynaMyte a little more than two years ago. Nearly every other day, she updates the vocabulary on his device. At one time, it seemed impossible that Damian would be able to navigate one of the 35-button communication pages that she has created for him, let alone hold a conversation.

For years, Damian's apparent inability to put thoughts into words left those around him perplexed. Lourdes Cora recalled the reassurances from well-meaning relatives, friends and clinicians that Damian probably was a late talker who in time would learn to express himself as other children did. But interpreting the gestures and noises that were Damian's primary means of self-expression was a constant struggle that Lourdes faced alone.

"He didn't really say anything," she said. "He'd just moan and scream to get attention. He didn't really understand that he couldn't be understood."

At his first appointment with Brown in the fall of 2001, Damian did little more than wave his hands and shout while running around the clinic. Brown knew that teaching him to communicate effectively in his own voice was a mission to be carried out slowly.

"We looked at him as a very challenging case. We had to look really hard at what we were going to do and where we were going to go at that point," Brown said.

The DynaMyte emerged as the right solution for Damian when Brown asked him to speak with the aid of the device.

"As soon as he saw the pictures, he was making choices," she said.

After Damian got his own DynaMyte in the spring of 2002, his communication journey turned in an exciting new direction.

"He went from doing nothing to selecting pictures, building four-to-six-word sentences and making requests on his own," Brown said. "He uses the device just like his voice."

Damian's communication accelerated as he saw that the DynaMyte provided a quick and easy way to ask for things that made him happy, and that if he stated his desires clearly and completely, they'd be granted. With Brown's guidance, he started with simple requests such as "I want balloons, " then advanced to more complex statements such as "I want you to put the flower swing up" in reference to a brightly colored hammock at the clinic. He even gave a detailed description of a park where he plays.

At Pinnacle Academy in Bradenton, a private school for children with autism and related disabilities, Damian uses his DynaMyte to ask other children to play with him. He tells his teachers that classmates are absent or to turn lights on.

"It makes a huge difference in his interaction with people and in his academic growth," says Rhonda Tengowski, Damian's classroom teacher and behavioral therapist this past school year. "Damian enjoys using the device to participate in class and has gained more confidence in communicating with others."

Like many children with autism, Damian tends to learn best through images instead of words. In school, he supplements his use of the DynaMyte with Picture Exchange Communication Symbols, or PECS. The hand-held stylized drawings, along with the ever-changing DynaSyms symbols on the DynaMyte's dynamic display screen, allow him to expand his use of language at a rapid pace.

But those watching Damian's journey with the DynaMyte unfold believe that his success with advanced augmentative and alternative communication is his own doing, Brown said.

"Damian amazes everyone who sees him use it. He really needs to take all the credit."

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