As he built a road for his toy cars, 4-year-old Wesley Radebaugh had not one but two friendly playmates by his side. The playmates were occupational therapist Lindsay Ripple and speech therapist Emily Waler, who find working together with Wesley to be a more natural and effective way to help him develop his skills.
Wesley’s session with Lindsay and Emily touched on traditional occupational therapy skills including sensory processing techniques, participation in age-appropriate activities and strengthening to improve his endurance for everyday tasks.
While honing these daily living skills, speech therapy addresses skills for communicating with his augmentative communication device and using expressive language to have his needs met. Wesley is unable to verbally communicate; he has been using a communication device for more than 2 years.
Combining two or more types of therapy – occupational, speech or physical therapy – into one session is called co-treatment and Lindsay and speech therapist Amy Sonntag presented on its effectiveness last February at the national conference of the Assistive Technology Industry Assoc.
“Movement helps arouse the senses,” said Lindsay. “We find that Wesley is more alert and able to learn when he is moving. Combining the two disciplines allows him the opportunity to experience alternative communication in a more natural, functional manner. Of course, the two disciplines could be conducted in separate sessions; however, we don’t speak in isolation from play, and other daily activities.”
Wesley began to show developmental delays from an early age and only recently was diagnosed with a very rare condition called spinocerebellar ataxia 29 (SCA29).
A key tool in helping him communicate is his Accent 1000, a portable augmentative communication device. Wesley uses the device to speak the words he is unable to say by pressing a key.
It features hundreds of picture keys that allow him to say the names of objects, colors, and actions. Wesley uses his device to tell others how he is feeling and to greet people he meets at the hospital with a friendly “hi!” The device has given him a voice and the ability to express himself.
Wesley clearly enjoyed his therapy session, as mom Jennifer watched on with pride.
Today, what looks like a fun play scenario involving a small blue truck and a small green airplane is really about giving Wesley the tools to communicate in the increasingly bigger world around him.