Fall 1996, Vol. 8 No. 1

by Anthony Robert Arnold

Editor's Note: This cover story holds special significance for me. It is written by a young man from North Dakota whom I had known 15 years ago when he was a preschooler in a program I directed at the University of North Dakota. I had the pleasure of seeing him again at the 1996 Closing The Gap conference. Not having seen him since his preschool days, I had still pictured him as the blond, blue-eyed toddler in the photograph that hangs in my office at The College of New Jersey. To my delight, he had grown into a poised, articulate high school graduate who is an outspoken advocate for augmentative communication and technology. To meet Anthony after all these years and to see all that he has accomplished was a teacher's dream come true. - Amy G. Dell

Anthony Arnold

Anthony Arnold working at the Prentke-Romich booth at the Closing The Gap conference.

I am Anthony Arnold from Grand Forks, North Dakota. I was born with cerebral palsy, the result of my umbilical cord being wrapped around my chest, neck and head, causing a lack of oxygen to my brain. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the effects of cerebral palsy, I will try to explain a little about it. It affects a person's whole physical body, especially motor skills and speech processes. I personally have been affected in both of these areas. I use a motorized scooter for mobility and an augmentative communication device since my speech is unintelligible to most people.

The Early Years: Before Augcomm

I have always lived in the same household as my parents and younger brother. My family strongly built my desire to express my wants, needs, and ideas by including me in all the communications as a member of the family. We have a lot of very interesting stories about how I got my point across when I was a little kid. The story that really interested me is how I pointed to items in the sales flyers that came in the newspaper every Sunday morning. Other stories I heard from my parents made me interested in my early chil dhood communication and the problem solving efforts I employed to express myself. I used to sequence objects together as a means of expressing my point to whomever was around at the time. I guess that's early Minspeak for you - putting pictured objects together in a sequence to convey the meaning of an idea or word. One of my early speech therapists tells of how I was a creative manual board user because I would put together symbols for one meaning, as well as use sources available at the time to make a point.

When my parents discovered that I had the ability to communicate a single point to people, they then consulted my therapists and education specialists at the rehab hospital to expand on this idea. I started using a manual communication board with six symbols. Soon I advanced to boards with more symbols, the alphabet and numbers. While this was going on, I was developing into a well-rounded communicator, putting together multi-word sentences. During this time, I was enrolled in an integrated preschool at the University of North Dakota and began interacting with other children. This experience helped me to develop socialization skills for communicating with my peers.

Inclusion and Technology

When I reached school age, I was included into a regular classroom with an aide to help me. I also spent time in a resource room working on some of the harder subjects for me, like reading and spelling. We also began working with computers and other special technology, which back in 1983 was new to all of us. It was just like jumping in with a life jacket and saying "Let's swim!" to see what's out there to help Anthony. It was and is very important that everyone work together - speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, teachers, parents, etc.

During first grade we decided I would be perfect for a voice output device, so we started looking at what was available. We wanted to find a system that would allow me freedom of speech and would also have good quality speech output. We first saw a Touch Talker with Minspeak (Prentke-Romich), along with other voice output devices, at Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Touch Talker really stood out in our minds. It had a good voice output system, plus it enabled me to put symbols together in a sequencing format similar to what I was already doing. We liked that it had an LCD for others to read if they coul d not understand me. Another nice feature was that it could be hooked up to a printer. I believe voice output helps not only in communciation but in spelling, reading and language skills.
In December of my second grade year, I finally got my Touch Talker. I recall that as the happiest day in my childhood. I was given the power to communicate something without having to depend on somebody to read my communication board. For the next couple of years, I was seen by two speech therapists who helped me build my vocabulary on Minspeak. At that time there were no pre-programmed vocabulary packages. This process called for that all-important input from the whole team who was working with me.

Learning To Use Minspeak

My speech therapists assigned me homework for programming words, sentences and names of my peers. We used a grammar-like approach. For example, to program "I want to go swimming" I would select the 'II' icon for I, the "holiday verb" icon for want, the "think preposition" icon for to, the "go verb" icon for go and the "pool verb" icon plus "ing" for swimming. Back then I hated those assignments, but I realized when I got older that they were given to me to show me that I could program my device anytime I felt the need for another word, phrase or sentence. After a few years my vocabulary was up to age level. During this time, my family instilled in me the importance of having my communication device with me at all times. Always having my device with me is like somebody wearing their eyeglasses.

My parents started noticing a big difference in their communications with me. While w e were traveling to visit family two and a half hours away from Grand Forks, I had my Touch Talker with me. This was the first trip that my mother didn't have to get up and read my communication board. Everyone was very happy that I could hold a conversation while we were driving.
Minspeak helped me maintain age level vocabulary. Therefore, I was included for all of my classes. As seventh grade rolled around, you couldn't have noticed any difference between the other kids and me. I also developed a system of making phone calls to my friends, and to this day I still live on the phone. I really believe that without Minspeak, I couldn't do this very basic task of making a phone call.

Upgrading to a Liberator

During my eighth grade year, I got a Liberator (Prentke-Romich), which had come on the market during the summer before. The Liberator, an upgrade of the Touch Talker, makes Minspeak an even more powerful tool. Since I upgraded to that system, I have been totally independent in my communication needs. Having unlimited communication capabilities both in and out of the classroom helped my teachers in my education process and enabled me to expand my horizons.

My First Job

During my high school years, I obtained a part time job at a local computer store producing typewritten manuals and catalogs. This would never have been possible without t he aid of my Liberator. My augcomm device helped me explain my special needs to my boss and co-workers. Having a job also entered me in the business world, something else for which you need good communication skills. I credit my Liberator, Minspeak and built-in DecTalk, the high-quality speech synthesizer, for this success, because I believe this would not have happened unless I had a speaking device with great speech output. I only hope that this is just the beginning of my business success with the aid of Minspeak because we both have a lot to offer people in general.

I'm Off To College!

I graduated from Red River High School in May, 1996. In November I received my acceptance letter from the University of North Dakota. I started college on January 8, 1997 and plan to major in computer science or something in that field. It looks like my childhood dreams have come true. I'm very excited to be a college student back where I started when I was 2-years-old. My long term goal is to work somewhere where I can help other people with disabilities with the aid of computer technology and/or speaking devices and make them productive citizens. My personal experience shows me that with a litt le special technology like Minspeak and hard work, anything can be done if one has the determination to do it.

For information on Prentke-Romich products, call them at (800)262-1984 or visit their web page here.

Anthony Arnold is a freshman at the University of North Dakota. He first presented his story at the Annual Minspeak Conference in May, 1996, and it was published in the conference proceedings (Prentke-Romich).

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