Indiana State University Newsroom

Camp time: Children with speech disorders attend Camp Bruce

July 1, 2011

In a circle, the Indiana State University students clucked their hands and waddled through the "Chicken Dance" guiding elementary students through moves as part of Camp Bruce. Some of the children sang along, others just danced.

After singing "My Baby Bumblebee," the 10 children scattered throughout the Terre Haute Children's Museum followed by 15 of ISU's speech language pathology graduate students, many of whom held small electronic communication devices in their hands.

Nine-year-old Hannah Waggoner paused in her playing to use sign language to introduce her family to the two Indiana State graduate students following her. Then she tapped at pictures on a keypad to tell the students what she wanted to do - go play.

After playing on the second floor of the museum, ISU graduate student Brittney Spugnardi of Brazil asked Hannah, "Do you know what time it is? It's your favorite." With the press of a few buttons, Hannah, who speaks through a trach tube, typed out lunch on the computerized device. She then led the students back down the stairs to the museum's classroom.

The camp, part of graduate level speech language pathology class in augmentative and alternative communication, gave Vigo County students with severe speech impairments a chance to attend camp and for Indiana State students to put their learning into practice.

"This is just a great idea for children in the summer," said Missy Schaumleffel, whose son Coleman uses sign language and an iPad to communicate. "There's not a lot out there for children with special needs to further their education. I'm just thankful this is available."

April Newton, ISU instructor of the augmentative and alternative communication class, came up with the camp idea after working last summer with a man named Bruce who has autism and does not speak. Newton volunteered to work with him and after a month he could use an electronic device to order at a restaurant and request a clerk at the bank to cash a check.

"I decided a camp would be a good way to honor him and helping others in our community," Newton said. "I made it part of the class so the students can have an opportunity to apply what they learned while working at the camp."

Some children attending the camp could speak some words and sentences; others could not speak at all instead using sign language or pointing to pictures to communicate. Graduate students used the Vantage Lite and Dynavox Maestro communication devices which allow the children to pick out pictures or type in words to create sentences, giving the children a voice and way to communicate.

"We got really excited when we sat a drink down in front of him and he said ‘want drink' (on the device) on his own," said graduate student Michelle Caswell from Fort Wayne about the student with whom she worked. "He didn't just use one button on his own that we were teaching him, he used two."

Carrie Rowe's 3-year-old son Norman has apraxia. He knows what he wants to say, but as the words travel from his brain to his mouth they become garbled. She learned about the available devices during the camp.

"He loves it," Rowe said about the camp. "He loves the attention more than anything."

Even in the few days of camp, Rowe said she and her husband saw improvement in Norman's communication.

"It seemed like overnight he started talking and putting sentences together in the last week," she said. "We wondered what happened, but he started using a device."

Working with the children allowed the graduate students to learn more about communication devices as well as the children.

"I'm learning probably more than he is," said Hanna Trapp from Columbus, Ohio, after working with her elementary student on finding words on the device such as carrot and cake. "We're learning how to use this device and how to use it with them."

Schaumleffel watched the graduate students leading her son in the songs and dance and noted that the graduate students were learning from Coleman.

"Not a lot of students take sign language so they're learning sign language from my son," she said. "They're learning how to work with a child with autism. Coleman doesn't like to sit. He likes to run. They're learning how to work with kids like him."

All of which will help the graduate students when they graduate and begin practicing speech language pathology on their own.

"AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) is a booming area. It's a misunderstood area because there are a lot of misconceptions out there," Trapp said. "It is a technique and a strategy to help individuals who can't communicate."

"A lot of people think there is only one way to communicate, but there are many different ways," Newton said. "Part of our job as speech language pathologists is to facilitate communication and figure out the best way for these individuals to communicate."

Newton plans to include Camp Bruce in the future as part of her classes. The camp is sponsored this year by ISU, ISU donors Danny and Deborah Dean and The Arc of Vigo County, a community-based organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The children sing songs, play and learn at the museum, eat a snack and create crafts.

Caswell said she was glad that ISU requires its speech language pathology students to take the AAC class.

"It helped me know how important it is to learn there are different ways of communicating and you should know about it," she said. "This camp is helping us get hands-on experience. That's the best way to learn, by doing things."

As for the mothers of the children attending the camp, they already are looking forward to next year and the next Camp Bruce.

"I think this is fantastic," Rowe said. "I wish it was longer than four days. Next year we should do it all summer long."

Hannah Waggoner lets ISU graduate student Brittney Spugnardi know that she wants to go play in the Terre Haute Children's Museum as part of Camp Bruce. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
ISU graduate students work with Vigo County students on communicating during Camp Bruce. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
ISU speech language pathology students used playing in the Terre Haute Children's Museum to work with children who have severe speech impairments. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or

Story Highlights

The camp, part of graduate level speech language pathology class in augmentative and alternative communication, gave Vigo County students with severe speech impairments a chance to attend camp and for Indiana State students to put their learning into prac

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