Learning to communicate

Jaclynne Dietrich helps Dylan communicate using a voice output switch.

Six-year-old Dylan Vongrej was born with Canavan disease, a disorder that causes progressive damage to nerve cells in the brain. Dylan is non-verbal and unable to walk, but, according to his mother Noreen, “He understands everything you’re saying.” He’s also learning to communicate, thanks to speech therapy he’s receiving from Matheny as part of its Solutions For Schools program.

Dylan is unable to physically attend school, but the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District has contracted with Matheny to have speech-language pathologist Jaclynne Dietrich visit Dylan twice a week. Dietrich is currently using two voice output switches to help Dylan communicate. “He’s pretty much mastered those,” Dietrich says. “We have programmed ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ and we make choices between music and books. And we have weather and numbers.  His vision is questionable, so we rely on his auditory abilities. We want to extend it beyond the two switches, so he can tell us what he wants to do and how he’s feeling. The iPad allows for that. There is auditory scanning and switches that connect to the iPad that will make things more accessible for him.”

“It’s amazing what Jackie has done with him,” says his mother. “He has really progressed with all of his therapists, but I’m partial to Matheny because you understand children like this more than anyone.” In addition to speech therapy through the Solutions program, the Vongrejs bring Dylan to Matheny’s outpatient clinic, the Matheny Center of Medicine and Dentistry, for both his seating-and-mobility and medical needs. “It’s great,” says his mother, “that everything is in one place.”

Help available through Matheny Solutions For Schools includes: specialized evaluations, therapy services, home-based services and adaptive equipment and assisitive technology. For more information, call Linda Newsome, Director of Community Services, at (908) 229-7342 or email her at mathenysolutions@matheny.org.

Dylan with, from left, his father Cliff, mother Noreen and speech-language pathologist Jaclynne Dietrich.