Communication is an essence of life:  to interact with others, to make our wants and needs known, to share ideas with others. Communication comes in many forms — verbally, gestures or facial expressions. However, for individuals who are unable to use these forms of communication due to various speech/language, motor, or other cognitive impairments, some form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) may be required.  

One Name, Multiple Options
Just as communication comes in many forms, so does AAC — from sign language to simple pictures and photos, to a voice output device in which the user activates a button and the device generates a recorded voice or digitized speech.  Eye gaze technology is one of many ways to access an AAC system. If an individual is unable to access a device or switch due to motor limitations, eye gaze may be an option. Eye gaze allows the user to make different selections on a screen of a communication device using their eyes.  By either dwelling or blinking on that particular picture, symbol, or word, the device will then speak their selection.

Our Approach to Eye Gaze Technology
At Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, a team of professionals, including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and seating specialists work together to help patients successfully use an eye gaze communication system. Speech language pathologists establish the most effective language program, while occupational therapists determine the most appropriate way for the individual to access the communication system.  Finally, seating specialists ensure the device is able to be mounted and/or utilized across different environments for the patient’s wheelchair.

Suzi’s Eye Gaze Story
Here is an example of a great communication evaluation:  The team met with Gillette patient “Suzi” and determined she was a very smart, funny, and social 10-year-old.  Because she has cerebral palsy, controlled movements and talking were challenging. It was clear from the first meeting that Suzi had a lot to say, but we needed to figure out how to allow her to communicate well.  First, the speech therapist looked at Suzi’s language and vocabulary to ensure the device gave her all the options she needed to communicate, but was not too difficult.  Then, the occupational therapist needed to ensure that Suzi could activate the device.  After testing many options, all of which proved ineffective for Suzi, she trialed an eye gaze device.  

Suzi’s Voice Emerges
On Suzi’s first trial, she played games and chased animals and targets with her eyes.  She was a natural. Her success almost instantly told us that Suzi could be successful with the device. When she interrupted her mom to ask the therapist, “How old are you?” her mom and the therapist were thrilled, as this was the first time Suzi was able to communicate with her own words.  While the process felt daunting at points, the end result was something that will never be forgotten. Because of this technology and the work from the team, Suzi is now able to communicate with those around her without waiting for assistance from anyone else.  

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