"Changed my life:" 'Chatter Matters' camp celebrates technology that allows non-verbal children to speak

WILLIAMS BAY -- In the past, young people who couldn't communicate verbally had their thoughts locked inside -- isolated from the outside world. Today, that world can be embraced.

"Chatter Matters Camp" in Williams Bay is for youngsters and their families.

Chatter Matters Camp

"Watching these kids have an opportunity to communicate in ways that they haven't in the past is amazing. It's amazing. I could sit down and talk to Mike for hours," Amy Weber, UWW speech pathologist and camp volunteer said.

Mike Hipple

Mike Hipple has cerebral palsy.

Thanks to Variety of Wisconsin's Chatter Matters Camp and technology, Hipple was able to speak to families and future professionals like Weber, who volunteered at the weekend camp, which took place from June 24th through 27th.

"The communication device changed my life. I can use my voice to help others find theirs. That's why I came here, to share what I learned. AAC is so important to everyone at Variety Camp. I'm also starting the Wisconsin AAC Network to work with families and schools to make Wisconsin a great place for AAC users," Hipple said.

Mike Hipple

AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication devices.

All of the devices are different -- depending upon the needs of the child, or, in Hipple's case, young man.

"How Mike accesses his devices -- there's different pads in the header ray. He moves a cursor around -- up, down, left right and select. He has a communication system, a combination of picture symbols and words," Sue Hipple, Mike's mother said.

"When I heard about Chatter Matters Camp, I was so excited because Alana would never really get the opportunity to go to camp because of her special needs and using a wheelchair and being non-verbal. She's got lots of strikes against her," Michelle, mother of seven-year-old Alana said.

Like Mike Hipple, Alana has cerebral palsy. Her ACC device allows her to speak using her eyes.

"There are lasers in her eye gaze that match up to her eyes and she is able to make choices that she wants at home, rather than just making sounds and looking," Michelle said.

Alana is able to use her eye gaze to navigate multiple pages to communicate with her parents if she wants something to eat or if she wants to play.

AAC device

The benefits of Variety's Chatter Matters Camp are endless.

"It's been awesome to meet other people who also use a communication device, and for Alana to meet people who communicate just like she does, and to meet other friends that use wheelchairs. We love to meet other families like us because that's our normal," Michelle said.

Alana loves to chat and be social -- especially when it comes to her favorite NFL team!

"Go Packers!" Alana said.

Hearing those words brought joy to Gerise Laspisa -- Variety's executive director, because Chatter Matters camp has become a passion.

"As a parent, I can say to you that the first time my child said to me that 'I love you' -- there's nothing better than that. To put a device into the hands of a child and have the ability to impact the learning so that a parent who's never heard that before can hear it -- that's it," LaSpisa said.

Chatter Matters Camp

If you'd like to learn more about Variety of Wisconsin's Chatter Matter's Camp, you're invited to email LaSpisa at gerise@varietywi.org.