‘A quick learner’

Boy gets boost with language learning app, community support

CHELSEY GOULD TRURO NEWS chelsey.gould @saltwire.com



SaltWire Network



TRURO - A kid who is still learning how to speak words but has no issue communicating his affection is getting a boost through a language-learning app and ipad purchased by family and community members. Seven-year-old Colby Stevens has Down syndrome and has been in speech therapy for as long as he can remember. Proloquo2go, an app by Assistiveware for people who have trouble speaking, is going to help Colby learn and communicate. “If you can't express how you were feeling and tell this person what is going on, like what's wrong, it's hard, right?” said his mother, Jiselle Finnamore. “So I can’t just imagine what he goes through because sometimes he can't really express what's wrong, so we know something's wrong, but he can't really tell us. So, I feel like this app will do wonders for him.” LEARNING AND COMMUNICATION TOOL At school, the Grade 1 student uses communication boards of pictures with words displayed around the room, running around to each one. His speech continues to improve with the support of speech pathologist Kerry Chisholm at Truro Elementary and family at home, even through lockdown with Zoom calls. “He has come such a long way in a year with his sounds and some of the words that he's been saying,” his mom said. “So yeah, we're pretty excited.” Colby's parents, grandparents and extended family all chipped in to buy the ipad, and Kerry wrote to the Truro & District Lions Club explaining their plans and how the $350 app would help him learn and communicate at any time. Bucky Daye, chair of the Lions' Youth Services committee, said the the club had "no hesitation" in helping the boy, adding that they have also helped other children like Colby in recent years purchase assistive tools. Daye got to visit the family, who expressed appreciation for the support. He said Colby was beaming and approached him like they had known each other for years. "He was really a fantastic little boy, I really enjoyed it," said Daye. "It was really heartwarming to help a kid like that. It really opens your eyes to see what what other kids are like." The words are organized into folders with pictures. Right now, the pictures include the basics of important parts of Colby’s life, like his family members - including older sister Kylie - places in the community, school and food. And there is a whole lot more to add, like schoolmates, because Colby has a “busy, huge life.” “The idea is as he gets more comfortable, we can add more folders, we can add more words,” said Chisholm. “We're hoping that this is something Colby’s going to use throughout his schooling, so it's going to follow him through.” Colby signs letter sounds and some words, using a mixture of his own gestures and sign language, along with what he can speak and read to communicate. “We want him to use all forms of communication,” Chisholm said. “So, this is just awesome that now Colby has one more option to help him out.” The little boy and his older sister were super excited to see “Miss Kerry” on the video call during their holiday break, only one morning after she helped them set the app up at home. Colby excitedly surprises her with a message, searching with his finger for the right icons. “I go to the bathroom,” the app reads out. “He's such a quick learner, like, just seeing him telling us that he went to the bathroom using his app, he just learned that in one day – that was amazing!” Chisholm said. That morning he used the app to say “thank you” for the breakfast his mother made. With time, she knows he will understand that the ipad is solely for learning on the app. “We don't want the kids to just use the tablet, we want him to use all forms of communication,” Chisholm said. “So this is just awesome that now Colby has one more option to help him out.” Right now, Colby is working on individual nouns and practicing some of the trickier sounds. At the moment, he wants to proununce “phone” with a 'd,' making it sound like “dome." Chisholm accentuates the "f" sound, and he mimics her. “We're just teaching each individual speech nouns so that Colby can learn how to say like his 'k' sound, or 'e' or his 'o,' and then eventually we start putting the sounds together to make words,” she said. “So, he's got a few words that he regularly uses that he can say quite clearly … if he wants to create a longer sentence to say, now he has the ipad to help him out." ‘JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE’ Colby's mother admits there have been challenges. Colby had surgery at three months old for Hirschsprung's disease, where missing nerve cells affect the ability to empty one's bowel, and was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, which is common among those with Down syndrome. Colby is a loving, smiley kid with lots of hugs and kisses for his mom, who said he is a blessing in her life. “He has had a little bit of health issues, but looking at him now, you never would know," said Finnamore, eyes brimming with tears as her kids embrace and comfort her. “He's very loving. I'm overjoyed with both my children. Colby is working on independence through skills like getting dressed and going to the bathroom by himself, and has the support of his family in each of his mom and dad’s households. “I'm the luckiest mommy ever. But sometimes I feel like it pulls at my heartstrings, just, I guess talking about it, because I don't want anyone thinking he’s different … Colby is special, just like his sister, she's very special. He's just like everyone else. And he just may take a little bit longer to do those things, but he will get there.”