“Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:8
No one ever plans or rarely asks for a child with special needs. However, I have learned that maybe they should, for what you receive is so much more. Bryce is a child who gives unconditional love, finds joy in watching a sprinkler on a hot summer day, and will always believe in Santa Claus. I have met the most amazing teachers, therapists, doctors and others that I never would have met without him. Because of Bryce, one of my daughters is a special education teacher and the other is a social worker. He truly is a blessing to all.
Bryce was born 19 years ago with cerebral dysgenesis, in other words, most of his cerebellum was missing. Your cerebellum controls your fine and gross motor skills. It is closely related to and easier to say that he has cerebral palsy, because most people understand and know that that is. Bryce cannot walk, talk or take care of himself. However, that has never stopped him and technology has been a big part of his life.
From the time Bryce was born we were told the best thing we could do for him was to stimulate his brain. And so we did, with every electronic toy imaginable. Toys with lights and music were a constant because they stimulated his brain and brought a smile to his face. He loved the cause and effect of pushing keys on a light-up keyboard, seeing the lights, and hearing the music. It may not seem like a lot, but that little bit of technology motivated his curiosity.
Bryce was three years old when he started preschool. The speech language pathologist basically became our best friend, as she always had his best interests in her heart and worked with us to give Bryce a way to communicate. She ordered a DynaVox. By today’s standards, it’s a dinosaur – a large unit that encompassed thousands of words that Bryce could access through touch. It was his first voice. Bryce used the DynaVox for several years. Our experience, though, was that it was not reliable and expensive to maintain. Fifteen years ago a typical DynaVox cost between $6,000 and $8,000. Luckily, it was covered by Bryce’s medical waiver.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Proverbs 17:22
At five, Bryce was given his first electronic wheelchair, operated through the use of a joystick. It must be a boy thing, because within a few minutes, he knew exactly how to control the chair and get to where he wanted to go. Thankfully, it also had the capability of being programmed to not go too fast. Seeing Bryce’s new independence brought this mom to tears and it also led Bryce to his first visit to the principal’s office. During art class one day, the students had all painted on large pieces of paper. To allow the papers to dry, they were laid on the floor in the hallway. To Bryce, this was an opportunity of a lifetime to make a “wheel” mess! Sure, there were footprints on the paintings as well, but the culprit of those was harder to detect. His wheel marks pretty much gave him away. To this day, it is one of his dad’s proudest moments. If we didn’t laugh, we would cry.
Even the most everyday devices pique Bryce’s curiosity. He loves a television remote. It can open windows to the world and can also be a lot of fun. At seven, he also discovered he could change the language, time, and whatever else he wanted on the television simply by using the remote and watching the menu on the television. We literally had to call the cable company to un-program everything he had done. However, it showed us that he could read and he actually knew what he was doing. We also put him in time out and use the digital timer on the oven. Unfortunately for us, he loves watching time tick down.
“In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
In September 2011, 60 Minutes did a story on the biography of Steve Jobs and the phenomenal impact of the iPad. Steve did not develop the iPad for people with special needs; however, it has had a profound effect on those with autism, as well as children and adults with special needs. It has single-handedly given the special needs community a forum to communicate, to learn, to play games, and to listen to music in the very same way as their peers. After watching that show, we knew an iPad was in Bryce’s future. Little did we know it would come sooner than expected.
Shortly after the piece aired, we received a call from a longtime friend of ours. Scott, a career officer in the Army, was so moved by the story that he went online that evening, purchased an iPad with the communication app and had it shipped to our home. We consulted with the speech language pathologist at Bryce’s school and within days, his new voice was a part of our lives. And unlike the previous devices, an iPad with a protective case and a communication app costs between $1,000 and $1,500. There are also many organizations that also donate iPads to special needs individuals.
Today in school, Bryce uses his iPad to communicate using the ProLoQuo2Go app. He also uses his iPad to access the Internet for research. Some of the other apps he uses are Prizmo and Jot Note Pro, which allows his teacher to take pictures of worksheets and he can type his answers onto the worksheets and turn them in electronically. He uses his iPad for email and written communications, as well as for entertainment purposes to play games and watch videos. The school also utilizes SMART board technology for different assignments. Bryce is able to wheel up to the SMART board and touch it for hands-on learning. For reading, he uses Read 180 which is accessed on his iPad or a computer – most of which is done independently.
During the summer and when school is closed, Bryce spends his time at the Redwood Rehabilitation Center in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky. He uses his iPad to communicate and to have fun. This past spring, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and his wife, Jordan, unveiled a new technology hub as part of the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation. The Hub will provide children and adults with access to electronic devices for educational and therapeutic purposes.
Like most people, our lives are filled with technology from the moment we wake up until the time we go to bed. This past summer, Alexa from Amazon joined our household. We ask her the weather, to play games, and questions upon questions. Our technology-loving son discovered that if he slowed down the words on his iPad, he could ask Alexa to do things as well. So now on a daily basis, we know how many days there are until Christmas, listen to the National Anthem, Cotton-Eyed Joe, and more often than not, Christmas music. He also uses his iPad to ask Alexa to tell him a joke every day! And you know what, I’m ok with that. Because my son’s voice asked for it.
Kris Staverman works for Thomas More College and St. Henry Catholic Church in Elsmere, KY. She has been married for 27 years to David and has four children.