With a big smile and an incredible story, it is hard not to be inspired when you meet Isabella. At six years old, she can already read and write Norwegian and Spanish, and is learning English. She speaks her mind like any child her age and is living an independent life full of opportunities. Isabella suffers from Cerebral Palsy, but thanks largely to her parent’s support, and to Tobii Dynavox AAC devices and software, the sky really is the limit.
Isabella was born in Argentina and now lives with her parents and two brothers in a small town on the beautiful southern coast of Norway. Her favorite color is pink and she loves riding horses, going to amusement parks and spending time with her family – and she absolutely cannot wait to begin school this year. Her diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy (CP) has left her unable to speak with little control over her body except for some head and normal eye movement. Despite this, her ability to actively communicate and live a more normal life is at an incredible level compared to her age. Getting to this point has been a long, but incredible ride.
Isabella’s journey towards communication began early, but got off to a rocky start. Living in a small town in Norway, her condition was unique for many of the first communication specialists that she met. They provided books and very simple symbols to promote her understanding of communication, yet progression was done at a very slow pace. As Isabella grew, her parents were convinced that she was being under stimulated and underestimated.
“I had heard about eye tracking technology and AAC software for early communicators, but when I brought these subjects up with the specialists we were working with, they did not believe it was the right fit for Isabella and that she was too young,” explains Carolina, Isabella’s mother. “I was determined and, after much convincing, was able to set up a trial with an eye-control specialist.”
The specialist took one look at Isabella and said, “This child is not being challenged. There is so much potential just waiting to get out”. And he was right.
Isabella was given an eye gaze trial and “nailed it”. In no time, she was able to have an actual conversation with her mother for the first time. With the door to communication open, things progressed quickly.
After much research, Isa’s parents decided that Tobii Dynavox eye tracking devices and software were the best option. Isabella was two and a half when she received her Tobii Dynavox AAC device with Sono Primo.
“My goal for Isa then, was to teach her the use of three basic buttons, so she would have a "taste" of independence, and be able to use some basic programs,” explains her mother. “Isabella mastered this in no time, and we moved passed Sono Primo, and fully into programming and customizing pages in Communicator.”
These new pages allowed Isabella to be in control of her interactions with people for the first time. The pages her mother created let her take charge and learn about common communication situations as well as play games.
“The big hit was playing Simon Says," explains her mother. “Isa would have grown ups crawling, jumping, and pretending to be monkeys, and she loved it.”
Progress was fast and soon Isa’s vocabulary grew and so did her ability to recognize proper sentence structures. The AAC software Communicator continued to be an important tool. Next it was time for Isabella to learn to write.
Ever since she was very young, Isabella had shown a great interest in the alphabet. To get things started, her mother introduced easy concepts in order to play around with letters.
“Incredibly, her first written words were CP and PC, the two most important things in her life. Isabella understood, at the age of almost 4, the power and freedom, that writing can give you.”
At this point, Isabella still mostly used symbols to speak, but wanted her mother to really teach her how to write. With the help of some proven techniques, the two started out on an intensive journey towards developing Isabella’s writing skills, and it was very successful.
We do not know if any limitations exist and we certainly have not reached them yet
“Isabella bloomed! She quickly went from 3 letter words, to five, and, slowly but surely, towards writing simple sentences, for example “I like”, “I will”, and “I don't”.”
Today, with the use of her Tobii Dynavox device, she can use the onscreen keyboard to write almost anything she wants to say in Norwegian as well as Spanish. Needless to say, the impact of using Tobii Dynavox eye gaze technology and AAC software on her life has been huge.
Since Isabella’s Tobii Dynavox device effectively acts as a mouth, her parents strongly believe that Isa should always be able to use it. This means that Isabella has access from the moment she wakes until she falls asleep. It goes with her to kindergarten, to the park, when visiting friends, on family vacations – everywhere; and no one is allowed to touch her device without first asking. In many ways, it allows her to be a normal six year old.
“With her Tobii, Isabella is able to be the big sister and boss around her younger brothers. When she is angry, she turns up the volume on her device, and turns it down when she wants to tell a secret. She has even learned to make SMS’s and phone calls to her grandparents for example, and has even made her own plans with them without us being involved. Tobii gives her the independence to make her own decisions.“
Isabella is now starting school as the first child in Norway with CP to know how to read and write. This will bring with it many new opportunities as well as challenges. While excited and very optimistic about what the future holds, Isabella’s parents know that the key to Isabella’s success is to always be moving forward in her AAC development.
“We do not know if any limitations exist and we certainly have not reached them yet. What we do know, however, is that by never slowing down and making our own rules in terms of discovering what level of communication Isabella is capable of, she will be able to get the most out of life,” says her mother. “We are so thankful that Tobii Dynavox has been able to give her a voice and a chance to have a real childhood.”