Kidsburgh: Pittsburgh Charity Pushes Communication Devices Program to Scale

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Variety – The Children’s Charity is known for providing bikes and strollers suitable for children with special needs in our area, but they are trying to take their new initiative called “My Voice” nationwide. Communication devices are specially programmed iPads that speak for children who cannot speak or have difficulty speaking.

Did you know that thousands of kids use these devices to talk at school and with their therapist, but can’t take their devices home? This means they cannot talk with their families and friends. The devices can change the lives of children and their families, and one local family learned that when they got one five years ago.

Tyler Winfield enjoys learning in fourth grade at West Point Elementary in Hempfield Township.

“He’s a lot of fun. He has a lot to bring to the class. He loves to participate. He’s energetic when he gets excited about a subject. We all know that because he jumps for joy and is happy to tell us about it. . , which is fantastic,” said teacher Laurie Hamill.

“Hi. Hola. Konnichiwa,” Tyler said to KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen. He can say “hello” in several languages, but just five years ago he could barely say a word. Tyler has autism and was non-verbal.

“He was crying, screaming,” his mother Jen Winfield said. “Once in a while you would see him hitting, banging his head, hitting himself, because he couldn’t communicate to you what he really wanted.”

In 2017, Tyler got a communication device from Variety and showed Kristine how he used it.

“What’s your favorite dish?” Kristine asked him. Tyler pressed a button on his device that displayed an image of a hot dog, and the device said aloud “hot dog.”

Kristine returned to visit Tyler the following year, and he had learned to speak on his own with the help of his communication device. She asked him again, “Tyler, what’s your favorite food?” and he said by himself, without the device, “hot dog”. Kristine choked up with emotion because she realized how different her life would be now that he could talk to himself. He could go to school, have friends, relations, a job.

Many children use a communication device in speech therapy and at school, but unfortunately, when they come home without a device, they are speechless.

“Part of me is like, honestly, ‘what does it mean he can’t take it home? He can’t talk to the most important people in his life – his mother, his father, his sisters, his grandparents. might we think?'” Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety – the children’s charity, said.

Variety has distributed 1,800 of these communication devices to children who cannot speak or have difficulty speaking.

Kids touch a picture or word and the device speaks for them, from urgent needs like “I need help” or “I’m hungry” to just being a kid. Tyler makes his device say, “I love purple pop. This is my favorite.”

Variety has the backing of major players, including Gov. Tom Wolf, former Gov. Tom Corbett and Steelworker President Leo Gerard, as well as big companies like Highmark and PNC, to pay for the devices that cost $1,200 each.

This public-private partnership helped Variety expand the “My Voice” program to most of Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. Variety is trying to demonstrate that this model can work everywhere and should be a national priority.

“Why can’t western Pennsylvania ignite a spark to grow up and go to America and other parts of the world? Why not?” said LaVallee.

The communication device changed Tyler’s life, and he gave a voice to thousands of children.

Kristine asked Tyler, “Why do you think it’s important for kids to be able to communicate?”

He replied, in his own words without the device, “It can help you talk, and it can help them understand what you’re saying.”

His mother, Jen, added, “Tyler, if he never had that chance, I don’t think he would speak. And if you don’t try, you don’t know.”

You can get more information on how to get a communication device from Variety here and you can get more resources for kids and families at Kidsburgh.org.

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