And it works well, according to Kathy Ruesing, the paraprofessional who has worked with Max since he was in Kindergarten at Conway's Julia Lee Moore Elementary School and who is his afterschool and summer babysitter. "He's such a smart little boy, but communication-wise he was very frustrated. There's so much he wanted to tell us but couldn't," Kathy says of those early years teaching Max.
The talker has allowed Max not only to initiate conversation, but also to express emotion, she says. "When the Michael Jackson memorial was on television, he came up to me and verbally said 'church song.' Then he said something else and I couldn't understand him. So he went over to the machine and typed in 'sad church song.' That made me laugh," she says.
Max reads, says the word, and practices its location on the deviceMax Reading
Kathy says they use the Edmark Reading Program for students with learning disabilities and Max is now reading sentences. "But he also reads signs on the side of the road - everything," she adds.
Like Theresa, Kathy also says Max is "obsessed" with traveling. "He wants to talk about the roads we're on and he knows them verbally. If I can't understand, he'll look at me, roll his eyes and type it in," she says with a chuckle.
Kathy says Max's teacher, Nancy Hill, is fluent with the Vantage device and has attended several in-service trainings. She credits her with helping Max succeed. "Once we got it, Max picked it up and ran with it; we practice and play games with it daily," Kathy says.
Nancy is as proud as Theresa and Kathy of Max's achievements, citing unexpected milestone after milestone. "In music class, for example, he used to have poor behavior; he would be wild and scream. But then we got him involved in the Christmas program. The choir director had him make the introduction to the program on his machine. When he saw he was part of the group he began participating. He did the hand motions and everything," Nancy says.
"I think because of his machine he is no longer frustrated. He does not have the emotional outbursts and is less aggressive because of it. He was in a shell unable to communicate, so he stayed there. Now he goes out of his way to be sociable with other kids. This year, for him, he had his first girlfriend. You could see the emotion in his eyes with her. Socially this has done so much," she adds.