Camp helps children communicate

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005

Allie Barkley, 16, of Center, has cerebral palsy. Her diseaseprevents her from many activities normally open to teenagers, butperhaps the most difficult to overcome is her inability tospeak.

Through the aid of Camp Jabber Jaw, however, many children getto interact with others their age with the same handicaps and sharestories and experiences through the use of an augmenting device.The augmenting device, through specially programed keys, give thechildren an electronic voice to express their concerns andfeelings.

Individuals who use alternative communication devices are oftenthe only ones in their community or school to use a device.

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“It’s a unique and rewarding experience for these kids,”saidSissy Barkley, Allie’s mother. “You might remember how excited yougot when you went to summer camp each year and got to see yourfriends there again. It’s the same way for these kids.”

Parents, who must accompany their children, are alsoenthusiastic about the camp.

“Parents of a child that does not have a disability, it’s hardfor them to really know how we, as parents, feel about having achance to go somewhere for a week and watch our child communicatewith other children when they can’t use their voice.”

For many of these children, it’s the only opportunity they haveto speak to others who share their disability.

Volunteers also help the children complete a complex task duringthe week. Last year, the children produced and presented atelevision show to the parents. The year before they performed aplay, with their augmenting devices providing the voices.

“It just warms your heart,” Barkley said. “The volunteers andthe kids really worked hard that week.”

Children are also given the opportunity for other fun activitiessuch as horseback riding, swimming, making crafts and increasingtheir vocabulary on the augmenting devices.

Not only do the campers and their families benefit from the weekof camp, but university students in the areas of occupationaltherapy, speech therapy and special education who volunteer receiveinvaluable training in the use of augmenting devices. They alsoearn clinical hours that they can apply toward graduate programrequirements, according to a press release from the T.K. MartinCenter for Technology and Disability.

The camp is held on the campus of Mississippi State Universityand hosted by the T.K. Martin technology center each June. Twelveto 15 families are housed in a MSU residential hall during theweek-long camp.

The camp celebrated its seventh anniversary in 2004. However,the camp has been funded through a federal project that is nolonger available and parents worry there may not be an eighthyear.

The cost of sending one family to camp is approximately $500,which includes dormitory accommodations, meals, facility rental andmaterials.

Barkley said she and two other Lawrence County families arecurrently seeking donations from businesses and individuals to helpoffset the cost of attending camp this year.

The Georgia-Pacific Monticello Mill has agreed to donateapproximately $250 to the program on Feb. 25.

Barkley and friends of Allie are also making crafts to sell withall proceeds benefiting the camp. She hopes to collect at least$1,500 to cover the costs of the three local families, but wouldlike to be able to contribute more.