Therapy Matters: Seeing the Person, Not the Difficulties
Melanie Timmerman, M.S., CFY-SLP
For the past several months, I have had the opportunity to serve as Grant’s Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). People often think that a speech therapist assists in improving verbal speech, but in fact it is often more about total communication. Let’s talk a little bit about the result of Grant’s injuries: he has auditory neuropathy (it’s a day to day change between if he can hear nothing to if he can hear a small amount). His vision is affected by ocular bobbing which makes it difficult to read. Many of his facial nerves are paralyzed, so he cannot blink, and he can speak some sounds but he cannot control his tongue or close his lips to make many sounds. If he does speak, it is one word. He has no sensation in his limbs; in fact, he only has sensation in his left cheek. Because he is not getting the feedback from his arm, telling his brain where it is in space, his arm movements are ataxic, meaning bouncy or jerky. Additionally, Grant battles with fatigue and auditory hallucinations. As you can tell, Grant lives with more than his fair share of obstacles.
Minds Matter is the type of company with a staff that sees past the difficult challenges and sees the person. Grant was a person that needed help and his therapy team has been instrumental in guiding him to where he is today. Erica Bates was his speech therapist prior me. She worked with Grant to train a counselor and psychiatrist to communicate with him using his preferred method of communication. This gave Grant more ownership of this therapy and coping strategies. Additionally, Erica helped him to become the owner of the Tobii communication device. Initially, Grant was resistant to this device as he found it “cumbersome”. He used a cardboard letter board to finger spell whatever he wanted to say before this device. With practice, familiarization with the device’s options, as well as creative and customized programming, he has started to reap the rewards of the technology. I have been able to help Grant by customizing his Tobii to fit his needs. Instead of him having to type out every single letter, I programmed pages with typical phrases and questions at the touch of a button. He can touch one button and it will speak “How was your weekend?” instead of touching the screen 20 times to write out that “simple” pleasantry. In the past couple of months, I introduced him to a new keyboard that has word prediction. Prior to this, it was simply an alphabet for him to spell out each word. The more he writes, the more words it remembers from Grant’s vocabulary. Words pop up on the screen that he might be wanting to write, just like we use for texting on our phones. It was a great day when he said to me using this word prediction keyboard “I can communicate”. I love it when Grant’s humorous side comes out. He has a great sense of humor and a keen wit that people that meet Grant post-injury would likely not know anything about without the Tobii and without taking the time to communicate with him.
A major benefit of therapy and this assistive technology is its access to internet. The e-mail feature has allowed him the opportunity to reconnect with friends. He e-mails back and forth with one friend on a weekly basis now and others every couple of weeks. He was able to e-mail his sister and wish her a happy birthday just recently. He could not do these things without this assistive technology. He also has started to use Facebook again to reconnect with friends in another way.
Grant loves kids. He has been volunteering at a nearby preschool twice a month for close to six months now. The kids love it when Grant comes. Some of their favorite things he does with them are reading them stories, telling knock-knock jokes, playing Simon Says, playing 20 questions, or singing songs. These are all things that I program for him into his Tobii, but Grant leads when we are in the classroom. He is very observant and gets a lot of energy from his time with the children.
If Grant meets someone new, there is an “About Me” page for him to quickly and easily introduce himself, explain that he can’t hear but he understands everything. He can let them know that to talk to him they can use the keyboard to type their message to him since he cannot hear. These options allow for him to be the one talking and his therapists and family can take a step back so that Grant can be more independent and have more of a voice.
Grant uses the Tobii to let me know how he is feeling each morning. These are pre-stored buttons that let him quickly communicate how he is feeling before therapy begins. He can say he wants to go outside, go to Wal-Mart, sit on the couch, etc. at the touch of a button. He can always type novel messages that aren’t pre-stored, but it’s my goal to give him options to communicate in the best and most efficient way possible.
Through advanced technology and highly specialized speech therapy, Grant has regained a voice that he can use in all aspects of his life. His family, the children he volunteers for, and his friends benefit from this daily. Minds Matter appreciates the privilege of getting to work for Grant. He is an amazing individual with a very bright future.
Click below to watch Grant’s story and how he uses his Tobii to give back to his community.