Yes she can!

Kamryn Leuenberger
Kamryn learns on her Alt Chat

Kamryn Leuenberger can do many things.  She can sit on her own, point to toys she wants to play with, and crawl across the room to satisfy her curiosity.  She can power on her brother’s video games, explore the kitchen cupboards and crank the radio when a catchy song comes on.

Five-year-old Kamryn has cerebral palsy.  And through therapy, technology, and the attention of a loving family, her ‘can do’ list is growing.

“We first noticed Kamryn was developing differently when she was nine months old,” says Wendy, Kamryn’s mother.  Wendy and Brian, Kamryn’s father, brought her to physical therapy, but when progress was slower than expected they took her to a neurologist.  “Through an MRI, her doctor diagnosed Kamryn with cerebral palsy,” says Brian.

Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder that is caused by brain injury before or during birth, or abnormal development in the immature brain.  It can cause impaired movement, rigidity in the legs and arms, abnormal posture and involuntary movements among other symptoms.  Each person’s symptoms are different; Kamryn experiences weak muscle tone, especially in her limbs and mouth, causing mobility, chewing, swallowing and speaking limitations.

The family turned to Winneshiek Medical Center for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy to help Kamryn develop daily living skills. Kamryn, with Grandma Anna Mae Remmen in tow, began their frequent therapy appointments, up to three visits per week.

“Honestly, I felt that Kamryn was caged inside her body,” says Brian.  “She was not able to move where she wanted or tell us what she needed.”  He adds “I worry about her – if she stands by the couch she could fall, and she can’t brace herself very well.  I want to protect her in every way.”

Fortunately, as Kamryn worked with her therapists, her world began to open up.  “Therapy has been eye-opening,” says Brian.  “I didn’t realize how much strength it took to sit up – to hold your balance straight to walk.  I see Kamryn trying to balance herself, how much muscle and coordination that it must take – we take all that for granted.”  Wendy adds, “Kamryn has made great progress in therapy, and now she is more adventurous and has discovered her ability to express herself.”

In addition to developing motor skills and muscle strength, Kamryn is learning how to use her voice.  Wendy says, “Kamryn cheers when happy, she claps for Dora the Explorer… and lets us know when she’s not happy.”  Kamryn is also learning to communicate with her family through an Alt Chat.  “When Kamryn reached the appropriate maturity level, our speech therapist at Winneshiek Medical Center, LeAnn, introduced us to this amazing device that ‘speaks’ for Kamryn,” says Wendy.  “We program it to say phrases that are meaningful for her.”

According to LeAnn Uhlenhake, SLP, speech therapist at Winneshiek Medical Center, the Alt Chat is an adaptive communication device that allows people with speaking limitations to express their needs to others, as well has hold meaningful conversations.  She says, “The Alt Chat is a customizable way for Kamryn to communicate.  We are able to program the device to speak phrases for Kamryn, such as ‘I am hungry’ or ‘My brother’s name is Kannon.’  Kamryn sees a picture on the screen and knows that when she touches it, she can communicate her needs.”

The Alt Chat is portable, so it goes everywhere with Kamryn and can be used in any setting – at school, home, therapy or at her favorite place, the park near her home.  Brian says, “It’s amazing how smart she is – she will push and hold the buttons to find out if we programmed the Alt Chat correctly.”

Speech pathologists work with children and adults who have speech and/or language delays.  Through a referral from a primary care provider, children of any age can be evaluated for speech or swallowing disorders at Winneshiek Medical Center.  LeAnn says, “We see children with all levels of speaking abilities.  Some children, like Kamryn, need more intense therapy and advanced technology to communicate; others need assistance in using and understanding language or making certain sounds.  If parents have concerns about how their children are communicating or forming sounds, early intervention and treatment can reduce the likelihood they will experience learning delays and frustration as they mature.”

“Not being able to communicate was very frustrating and stressful for Kamryn,” says Wendy.  “Learning to communicate with her Alt Chat makes a big difference for her.  We’re thankful for all the support we get – that we have all these wonderful therapies within easy traveling distance.”  Brian adds, “For five years we haven’t heard our child say anything – mom, dad… nothing, and then when she has a button she can touch, we finally know what has been in her mind – what she has been wanting to tell us.”  For the first time in her life, Kamryn can finally tell her family “I love you.”  Brian says, “Her mom has been waiting for that for years.”

For more information on pediatric therapy services at Winneshiek Medical Center, call the Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Department at 563-387-3031 or talk to your primary care provider.

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