iPad Gives Ty a Voice

Ty selects a word on his AAC device for Speech Pathologist Danielle Waters.

Ty selects a word on his AAC device for Speech Pathologist Danielle Waters.


Amanda Rogers cried when her son said ‘mom’ at five years of age. She cried harder when he asked for his first meal - McDonald’s chicken nuggets with his assisted communications device.

 Ty, 7, could not say a single word when he started kindergarten at UCP’s Downtown/BETA campus. Intensive speech and occupational therapy four days a week cracked open his quiet world. 

 He now has a vocabulary of 50 words and hundreds more at his fingertips with his augmentative and alternative communication device (AAC) – a plastic-encased iPad with a fancy app that uses pictures and words to help Ty speak. The $800 gadget, which the family of six could not afford, was paid for through a Bellows Grant from the UCPA Elsie S. Bellows Fund to provide assistive technology to children with disabilities.

 Ty’s world was silent and lonely before UCP Speech Language Pathologist Danielle Waters broke through his communications barriers. It took hours of repetition and trial and error.

Ty has autism, apraxia of speech and receptive expressive language disorder. The biggest breakthrough came when Waters created Mario and Luigi puppets from Ty’s favorite game and it motivated him to speak so he could share his passion with his classmates.

 “He knows what he wants to say but the messages that tell his muscles when and how to make sounds do not make it from his brain to his tongue and lips,” explained Waters. “He was misdiagnosed at his first school and we found that he has much more comprehension then we initially thought.”

There were years of silence, tantrums and frustration during Ty’s first five years of life. The little boy who always played by himself has friends now, including a photo of each on his iPad that he can point to with pride.

The once lonely child now strides down the school hallway waving at everyone. He wears the AAC around his neck so he can stop and chat. His mother said he’s the first one dressed each morning for school in his khaki shorts and uniform shirt. Holidays and weekends make him mad.

 Ty made no sounds except crying and could not walk until 21 months of age. Rogers’ eyes spill tears as she relates how a doctor told her Ty would never talk. At 15 months, he received early intervention services in their Georgia home but there were no words until kindergarten.

 “He was frustrated and struggled,” said Rogers. “He would have meltdowns, never wanted to be touched and would sit in the corner and scream.” 

 Rogers credits Waters’ determination and tenacity for Ty’s success. She said Waters even fought their insurance company and won when they tried to cut his therapy to two days a week. 

Waters is one of more than 100 UCP therapists who devise individual plans to help each child meet their developmental and academic goals.

“It’s challenging, but like a real-life puzzle trying to figure out what will work for each kid,” said Waters, who often videos sessions so parents can watch achievements and practice the therapy at home. “This is my passion.”

Ty is learning to read in second grade and the AAC helps with grammar and pronunciation.

 “Once he (Ty) found his voice, he became so eager to learn,” Rogers said. “I can’t even imagine where he will be next year.”