Partners in Communication Camp Chatterbox, Computers Open Doors for Nonverbal Kids

By Blaska, Jill | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 5, 2002 | Go to article overview

Partners in Communication Camp Chatterbox, Computers Open Doors for Nonverbal Kids


Blaska, Jill, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Jill Blaska Daily Herald Correspondent

Chris Sawka loves the Cubs. Camp Chatterbox helps him talk about it. Using his own words, but not his own voice.

Camp Chatterbox, a week-long, overnight camp for non-verbal or severely speech-impaired children will be held June 15-22 in Hudson, a small town about 130 miles south of Chicago.

For 11 years, children and families from across the United States have attended Camp Chatterbox in Worchester, Pa. Making its debut in Illinois, Camp Chatterbox will be more accessible for children and their families in the Midwest.

About 13 families (or 46 people including hospital staff) will be attending. Eight families are from Illinois, two from Vermont, and one each from California, Georgia and New Jersey.

Locally, families from Lisle, Western Springs, Naperville, Bannockburn, Plainfield and Buffalo Grove are planning to attend.

Suzanne Sawka of Buffalo Grove attended Camp Chatterbox in Pennsylvania with her son Chris, 13, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 10 months old. The Sawkas will be a lot closer to home this time.

"Camp Chatterbox creates a community we really don't experience in other places," Sawka said. "It was the first time we were in a community where it was OK for someone to take their time putting together a message."

Camp Chatterbox helps children and their parents use augmentative and alternate communication (AAC) devices. An AAC device speaks for a child who has little or no verbal ability. Children navigate through computer screens, choosing words to construct sentences, which are spoken by the computer.

"The process is really complex," said Joan Bruno, PhD., director of educational technology at Children's Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, N.J., and creator of Camp Chatterbox. "For instance, in order to say the word 'forgot,' a child using a communication device has to first know it is a verb, then find the verb column, then find the picture of the verb representing the action. …

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