Device empowers student to connect with others

zachBy: Zuhayr Alam

As one enters or leaves the Tiger Den, one may see a nice sophomore boy enthusiastically greeting students or wishing them a good day. His name is Zach Carr, and he loves food, Michael Jackson, Spongebob and interacting with his peers.

He also has Cerebral Palsy.

Cerebral Palsy, or CP, is a group of permanent movement impairment conditions that do not worsen or get better over time. Usually, CP is caused by damage to the motor control centers of the brain and is contracted during pregnancy, birth or early childhood, and can also result in speech impairment. In Zach’s case, he has never been able to use his legs or speak and has limited use of his arms.

When Zach first went to Peet Junior High, he only knew how to convey two of his emotions: anger and happiness, and he would represent the two either by throwing something or making a high pitched squeal, respectively.

Zach’s speech pathologist, Peg Gannon, immediately came up with a way to see how much he actually knew. She asked simple questions, and Zach would answer her questions by motioning to a picture.

After a conversation with Zach’s family, Gannon determined that Zach would get a tablet-like device with an app called NOVA Chat 7, which is a speech generating device. It shows simple categories and words on a screen that the user can use two buttons to operate. Zach uses a green button attached to his wheelchair to swipe through categories such as “social” and “I want,” and a red button to select certain words or phrases such as “Hello” or “Pizza.” He has had the device since June.

Because of NOVA Chat 7, Zach find it much easier to communicate his emotions and interact with people, but it has not always been so easy for him.

Gannon remembers how hard it was before NOVA Chat 7. “Last year, before NOVA Chat, we were working at a computer. Another part of Zach’s Cerebral Palsy is that he produces a lot of saliva, but can’t clean himself, so an adult helps him,” Gannon said. “Two students sitting a ways away were grossed out and reacted in a negative way. Because of this, Zach began to get mad, and his feelings were hurt. I explained what was wrong, and the students were very apologetic, but the experience was hard for Zach.”

Ever since he began working in the Tiger Den this year, he has been using and slowly getting more adept at NOVA Chat, but the reaction to the device has been varied among students.

Gannon said that sometimes kids don’t know how to react.

“The reaction to Zach and his device has been mixed,” Gannon said. “Usually, the reaction is either ‘What is that?’ or ‘How does that work?’”

Gannon also wants to remind the students that Zach loves people and talking.

“Zach loves to interact with his peers,” Gannon said. “He loves showing others how his technology works,” and she said she thinks that the Tiger Den has helped Zach.

“The Tiger Den has done wonders for Zach,” Gannon said. “He can interact with his peers, see his friends and spend time in a cool environment.”

Gannon encourages others to be friendly towards Zach.

“The next time you are in the Tiger Den, just try to acknowledge Zach,” Gannon said. “Try to say hi when you walk in and bye when you leave. He’ll always reply with a smile.”

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