Adaptive technology allows student speech communication


Sixteen year old Kylie Elser may have Rett Syndrome, but she doesn’t let it stop her. Rolling down the hallway, she uses her eye gaze communication board to research articles on Donald Trump or whatever else inspires her curiousity.

Rett Syndrome is a rare genetic neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in young girls. It causes the deterioration of coordination, speech and motor skills.

In spite of her ailments, Elser is able to communicate with those around her using a form of innovative technology known as eye gaze coordination.

By looking at control keys or cells displayed on a screen, she generates speech either by typing a message or selecting pre-programmed phrases using solely the power of her eyes.

Tammy Frahm, one of Elser’s teachers, said communication devices play an importance role in the classroom.

“They help us know that the students are understanding us and that they’re feeling like they are a part of things. This gives them the opportunity to say if there’s something wrong and we can then look for what is wrong and try to help them. If they don’t have communication, it makes it really difficult for us to figure that out, but I think for Kylie it’s just a thrill to be able to come up to somebody and ask how they are because if she weren’t able to do that, not everyone would interact with her, and sometimes she just needs to be like a regular teenager.”

Frahm utilizes many different kinds of technologies in her classroom to help enrich her students’ learning and provide them with unique forms of communication. iPads, switches and touch whiteboards are all devices her students use on a daily basis.

Communication devices offer students new ways to express themselves and grow in their relationships with others. Kylie’s father, PE teacher Paul Elser, said eye gaze communication has had a huge impact on his daughter.

“It’s pretty amazing because for most of her life she’s not been able to speak, and we’ve really had to read her body language to understand what she wants or what she needs, so I think it’s really given her an opportunity for her to show her own personality and let us know what she’s thinking. Because of this device, she’s able to express herself and let people know more about herself,” Elser said. “The advice has allowed her to put some things into words. It’s huge for her, because I mean, she’s thinking about things. She has things to say.”

Elser especially wanted to emphasize the fact that everyone has something to say.

“Just because someone can’t or communicate the way you do, doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to say. I think that’s an important message. Everyone needs to understand that all people communicate in different ways. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have anything to say, because she’s proved that she does.”

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