TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Bradyn Bennett stepped away from a game of bowling to introduce himself.
Using an iPad, the 9-year-old Dixie Bee Elementary third-grader pressed a series of buttons to form a sentence, which an app verbalizes for him.
“My name is Bradyn Bennett,” the program’s text-to-speech function announced.
The conversation came as Bradyn was spending an afternoon at the Terre Haute Bowling Center with fellow participants in Camp Bruce, a week-long camp for people with complex communication needs.
Children ages 3 to 17 are partnered with 22 graduate-level speech and pathology students from Indiana State University, giving campers the opportunity to strengthen literacy and sensory skills and providing students with a hands-on learning experience.
Seventeen children from the Wabash Valley are enrolled in the sixth annual camp, the largest ever. Arc of Vigo County sponsors and funds the camp, also supported by the Wabash Valley Community Foundation’s Larry C. Archer Memorial Fund.
Vigo County School Corp. speech pathologists Tracy Goff and Karen Oxendine have also helped facilitate activities.
Most of the campers use some kind of device, like a mobile app, to help them speak. The camp concentrates on augmentative and alternative communication, or methods other than oral speech.
“A lot of the kids are in schools where they may be the only one that has a (supplemental speech) system, so it’s exciting for them to come and see other kids that are talking on their same device,” said camp director April Newton, who teaches ISU’s augmentative and alternative communication course.
“And there’s a friendship that carries over year-to-year,” she added, “which is really important for all of us.”
Campers are spending most of the week in the Norma and William Grosjean Clinic at ISU’s Bayh College of Education, where activity stations focus on literacy and sensory activities, individual and small-group therapy.
Exercises include asking children questions they can answer through their devices.
Bradyn’s grandmother, Tonya Dishon, said the camp has helped encourage him to use his device more often. Bradyn’s iPad is equipped with LAMP Words for Life, an app developed by assistive technology firm Prentke Romich Co.
The app links pictures with words and can be personalized to include names of the user’s family members and other frequently used words.
Because Bradyn is able to verbalize a little on his own, Dishon said, he is often lax with the device.
“Sometimes he doesn’t want to use that unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Dishon said.
But his family and teachers are impressed by how quickly he’s adapted to the technology.
“When we went for Thanksgiving, he read a book with it,” added Bradyn’s mother, Jill Child, who joined him at the bowling alley.
In working with campers who have a broad range of communication needs and abilities, graduate students are challenged to tailor knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom.
Sarah Thompson, 24, and Nicole Keeling, 22, are partnered with 16-year-old Devon Wood, who communicates through modified sign language and eye gaze.
“You’re always modifying what you’re doing to fit their personal needs, and really this whole week’s been about having fun,” Thompson said.
The experience, Keeling said, encourages them to embrace a “different clinician mindset” according to the camper’s needs.
Funding the camp ties in to Arc of Vigo County’s belief that communication is important for everyone, said Brenda Goodier, vice president of the organization’s board of directors.
Goodier’s cousin is the camp’s namesake, and her family provided the seed money to start it.
The camp, she said, gives participants the ability to be more independent and have a better quality of life.
“It enables them to do what the rest of the world gets to do that (it) doesn’t need a device for,” Goodier said.