LECLAIRE, Iowa (KWQC) – Imagine not being able to communicate the many thoughts in your mind. That’s the reality for one pleasant valley teen who has Rett Syndrome.
Through a national contest, the teen now has a way to community to friends and family.
Students and staff cheer on Leah Layton in the Pleasant Valley Junior High Library, as she receives a life-changing gift.
Leah was born with Rett Syndrome.
It’s a neurological and developmental disorder, caused by a genetic mutation.
For about the first two years of her life, she was developing normally; walking, talking, using her hands freely.
“And then it’s like the switch got flipped on. And, Rett Syndrome takes away the ability to talk, use her hands. It gives her breathing problems and seizures and a host of other things that has made it pretty difficult over the last, you know, 13 years or so of her life,” said Ryan Layton, Leah’s father.
She understands everything, but is unable to communicate verbally.
Her speech language pathologist, Jeanna Kakavas was at an Augmentative Alternative Communication conference earlier this year and entered a contest to win a communication device through Forbes AAC.
The Ohio-based company manufactures and designs speech generation devices for people who can’t talk.
The contest was simple: take a picture, get the most likes on Facebook, and win a communication device for someone who needs it.
“We won the device by, like, a landside. So, we got 705 likes, I think, and the closest person was like 190. So, everyone in the whole community and LeClaire and PV school district kind of helped win this eye-gaze for her,” said Kakavas.
“What Leah will do is have a vocabulary layout with her words that she would want to say. And then she’ll be able to look at the icons, and using eye tracking technology she’ll be able to make a selection on the screen,” said Clayton Smeltz, President & CEO, of Forbes AAC.
Technology that is finally giving Leah Layton her voice.
“When you’re only able to respond to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and you’re dependent on other people asking you the right question, or thinking the same thought you have, you’re pretty limited. So this opens up a whole new world for her to just be her own person, and give us her own unique thoughts, and idea, and jokes and whatever it is she wants to tell us,” said Maren Layton, Leah’s mother.
“I’m literally like, so excited for her because she’s going to be able to communicate with us and talk to us. I have health with her, and she’s going to be able to include herself in the conversations we have. It’s so exciting,” said Grace Law, Leah’s lifelong friend.
Excitement that can be seen through Leah’s smile.
“She’s a happy girl but that was an extra smile. That was amazing,” said Ryan Layton.
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