Written by Jeanne Mahanna, Easterseals MA AAC Specialist
Julia Cobb is a dynamic 16 year-old girl who is currently in her sophomore year at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough. Three and a half years ago, Northborough started contracting with Easterseals for AAC consultation for students in their district and that’s when I met Julia. Of the 14 hours a week I spend in the district, 3 of them are spent in various ways with Julia. I consult to her family, teachers, aides, and service providers, as well as work directly with Julia both in 1:1 and group settings such as weekly social lunch groups, OT sessions, and academic courses. Julia’s after school activities include Best Buddies, DECA, Color Guard, and working in the school store, all of which I have helped support Julia with at different points, as well. Julia’s Occupational Therapist and I have started working with Julia on her functional communication skills in community settings. We’ve taken shopping trips to Target where Julia utilizes her devices for various purposes throughout the store. Julia has embraced this new challenge head on and is learning to create shopping lists, handle money, maneuver around the store with her belongings and ask for help from store staff when deemed necessary. Julia is also very involved in her community, taking 8 dance classes weekly and participating in dance recitals, using her device to advocate for herself, and socialize with peers.
Julia is a multi-modal communicator. She is very expressive, using gestures, facial expressions, and sign language in conjunction with her speech generating device (an iPhone with Proloquo4Text) to communicate throughout her day. The text to speech application on her phone allows her to spell her messages; she also utilizes the word prediction, pre-stored messages, and phrase features to increase her typing speed. In addition to her iPhone, Julia uses a Chromebook to take class notes, complete assignments, and participate in class discussions with the assistance of a text to speech application which allows her to read aloud in class and provide answers during group discussions. Julia also uses an iPad and a Bluetooth speaker, which have afforded her the opportunity to participate in large group settings such as a drama class, where Julia demonstrated her skills in a way that allowed several people to learn how talented she is.
Throughout her life, Julia has made use of different types of communications systems and has worked with several wonderful therapists and specialists in Northborough prior to my meeting her. We continue to actively collaborate with Children’s Hospital in order to meet many of Julia’s complex needs. While Julia has dealt with many medical issues throughout her life, she still continues to not only grow in her academic and social skills, but she challenges her Team to keep up with her. Given this speech-generating device and intensive training to use it, Julia has been able to participate more fully in regular education classes, as well as extracurricular and community activities. Although this is not always an easy task, Julia continues to learn the skills needed to communicate in these environments. In her first year of high school, Julia participated in the school play, joined a Unified Singing club to provide sign language interpretations of songs, and became a member of the Color Guard where she performed routines at football games and pep rallies. While these times are unstructured and can be overwhelming for a student who has communication challenges and cannot easily express themselves, Julia has succeeded in making friends and very much enjoys being a part of these groups. With the full support of her very dedicated family Julia has blossomed and continues to flourish as she takes on new challenges and joins in on new adventures. Julia’s spunky personality shines through in every encounter and every activity she undertakes. Her resilience and energy make working with her rewarding and worthwhile, and I look forward to our times together.