News and Notes

A Newsletter for Faculty and Staff of Idaho State University

July 6, 2009 — Vol. 25 No. 21

Children and young adults find voice at ISU-Boise’s AAC Camp

ACC camper Kyle Johnson, 13, climbs the rope ladder at ISU-Boise’s AAC Camp.
Eric Junilla, 14, uses a “talker” attached to the front of his wheelchair to communicate with ISU Pocatello speech pathology student Seren Horton (left). Eric tells her he wants macaroni and cheese for lunch.

Strapped into a safety harness with his face beaming, 13-year-old Kyle Johnson climbed a rope ladder at Boise’s West Family YMCA and Aquatics Center.

His mother, friends and a couple of camp counselors stood 20 feet below on the gym floor, cheering him on.

“He’s pretty brave,” said Barbara Johnson, Kyle’s mom. “It’s great to see him interact with his peers.”

Kyle, who has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects body movement and coordination, was one of 22 children and young adults who attended the fourth annual Advancing Adventures in Communicating Camp at Idaho State University-Boise, June 8-12.

The camp—the only one of its kind in the Northwest—is for children, teens and young adults who have severe communication challenges caused by autism, cerebral palsy, injury or other delays in development.

During camp activities, children and teens worked to improve their social and augmentative communication skills through the use of speech-generating devices called “talkers,” which can store hundreds of words and phrases, according to camp director Anne Kuhlmeier, a licensed speech language pathologist at St. Luke’s-Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Services.

As Kyle descended, his friends told him “good job” and “way to go” using their talking devices.

“Talkers” resemble computer screens that campers can hold in their laps or attach to the front of a wheelchair. Verbal responses—reflecting a user’s desires, personality and life experience—can be activated manually or with an infrared light.

Fourteen-year-old Eric Junnila, who has limited use of his voice, indicated he was hungry and selected macaroni and cheese from the menu options displayed on his “talker.”

Asked how her week was going, 11-year old Shelby Sweley responded by pressing an image on her picture board: “I love to go to communication camp in the summer. I had a fantastic first day of camp!”

Shelby’s enthusiastic review of camp was shared by camp counselors too, which included 20 graduate and undergraduate students from the speech-language pathology programs at ISU-Boise and Pocatello. The students received extensive training on how to use the speech-generating devices before the camp session started.

“This camp is the best thing in the world,” said Dayna Ball, a graduate student at ISU-Boise. “We’re with the campers five days a week, six hours a day. The camp teaches you not all children are the same. They are all individuals with unique personalities.”

The AAC Camp is presented by ISU-Boise’s Department of Communication Science and Disorders & Education of the Deaf and St. Luke’s-Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Services. For more information, call ISU’s Kathleen Kangas, (208) 282-3812, or St. Luke’s Anne Kuhlmeier, (208) 706-5775.