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Opening Doors to Essential Communication


A text. A tweet. A phone call. An email.

There are more ways than ever to communicate today and it is a tool many often take for granted. But at Little City’s ChildBridge Center for Education, communication is the key to opening so many doors for people with developmental disabilities. That is why every minute of every day in every class is spent developing communication skills one way or another.

And there are many, many ways.

“It’s important to meet students where they are at and that’s why you need to have a variety of ways to communicate,” said Karrie Dean, Administrator for the ChildBridge Center for Education. “Whether it is scripts or songs or even puzzles, there are so many tools we can use to teach communication.”

Little City day school staff working with students on their communication skills.

The communication tool of choice at Little City’s school is “TouchChat.” The iPad-based program allows non-verbal students to string together images that will create an audible sentence. Speech therapy teacher Jason Cohen said he often starts students with “more” and “all done” and builds from there.

Jason, who has been at Little City as a speech therapy teacher for five years, said progress is often incremental, but even the smallest improvements can open a whole new world of opportunities for the student.

“We focus on core words, which are 70 to 80 percent of the words people use in the everyday language like I, yes, no, get, open, feel and so on,” Jason said. “With those words, you can communicate pretty much anything you need.”

The power of the program is evident. As Jason walks into a classroom to see Anthony, one of Jason’s many speech therapy students,  Anthony gives out a big yawn. Jason asks if Anthony is feeling tired, with a couple clicks on his iPad, Anthony responds he is feeling uncomfortable. An action that a staff member could have previously misinterpreted as one feeling can now be easily corrected because non-verbal students have the power of communication through technology.

Student using TouchChat to comunicate
The communication tool of choice at Little City’s therapeutic day school is “TouchChat.” The iPad-based program allows non-verbal students to string together images that will create an audible sentence.

But technology is not the only tool Little City uses to unlock the power of communication. Music can often help and the rhymes in sons can teach students to learn new words. “The Zones of REgulation” color chart allows students to point to a color that signifies how they are feeling. And some students even use sign language to express basic needs at first, but not for long, because many if not all students will never interact with the deaf community, so teachers work to get students on TouchChat or other symbol-based methods as soon as possible.

Though the non-verbal students may never clearly verbally communicate, Karrie said all students who graduate from the ChildBridge Center for Education are able to express their needs and wants.

“Our expectation for every student is that they will be able to self-advocate by the time they leave,” Karrie said. “We have to work every single day with them on communication and sensory regulation to make sure they are able to develop a consistent way to communicate so their basic needs and wants are met. That’s our number one goal.

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"There are so many capable and caring staff at Little City, past and present, who have helped Clifford. He has made a lot of progress in mastering his behavior."

Colleen, Mother of a child living in a ChildBridge Group Home