Published: Thursday, March 30, 2006
Device will help boy communicate
'It's going to change his world,' a mother says of the gift to her son.
By TIM YOVICH
NEWTON FALLS Thirteen-year-old Tyler Johnston has difficulty communicating his wants and needs because of non-verbal autism.
"We've never had a conversation with him in 13 years," says his mother, Melanie Johnston of Columbia Avenue.
Thanks to a gift from an Ohio company, that's about to change.
Tyler was diagnosed as autistic when he was 5. Over the years, he has learned limited sign language to express himself, and uses picture cards so he can point to something he wants food or something to drink.
His vocabulary is limited to 20 word approximations, making him difficult to understand except to those who spend a lot of time with him.
To help Tyler communicate, his mother said that she and her husband, Daryle, have been trying for eight years to buy a communication device manufactured by Prentke Romich Co. of Wooster.
At first, Johnston said, her son wasn't ready to use the touch-screen computer and later it was a question of paying the $7,000 cost.
Now, as part of PRC's "40 for 40 Program" as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, the company has selected Tyler to receive one of 40 portable devices it is giving away. This program seeks individuals nationwide who lack funding-assistance options and would otherwise not be able to obtain a communication aid; there was an application process.
The device will be presented to Tyler at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Newton Falls Middle School, where he's a sixth-grade special-education pupil.
Johnston said the school has worked well with Tyler and has made him part of the school experience.
"It's going to change his world," Johnston said of her son receiving the device, noting he'll be able to tell her things such as if he has a headache or wants to go outside.
Johnston and Tyler will be going to the University of Wisconsin in July to attend a six-day camp. There, Tyler will be mentored on the device and she will become an aide.
Tyler is able to use a regular computer for some school work and can spell on it. "He just can't verbally get it out," she noted.
The Johnstons have two more sons, Haden, 10, and Samuel, 7. She had to quit her job in the banking business to take care of Tyler. Her husband works at WCI Steel Inc.
"It was depressing and scary" when Tyler was diagnosed as being autistic, she recalled.
"He's becoming more independent. He sometimes ignores us like any teenager," Johnson said. "Lately, he's been making his own popcorn."
Prentke Romich Co. says it is the worldwide leader in the development and manufacture of augmentative communication devices, computer access products, and other technology for people with severe disabilities