By Paula Walter
The Tomahawk has previously reported several times on Xavier Chapa, a little boy who has suffered from multiples seizures, sometimes up to 80 a day, since birth. Most recently, a vagus nerve stimulator was implanted in his chest that would give him a slight jolt in an attempt to halt these episodes. Between adjustments in his medication and the new device, his family has noticed a reduction in the amount of seizures, but he was still having severe difficulty communicating. In addition to being epileptic, Xavier is also autistic.
Despite being six years old, Xavier’s communication skills were minimal, at best. According to his mother, Julie Chapa, his vocabulary consisted of just a few words that included night night, banana, help, Mama, O for his sister, Olivia, and hi. “For years he wouldn’t even try to talk,” said Chapa. Xavier attends all day kindergarten that is modified for his needs. The classroom consists of six students and three teachers.
After waiting for one year to get approval from Xavier’s insurance company, he recently received a unit that he can use to communicate. “We were denied twice,” said Chapa. “We appealed twice and we then were approved.” The device, Nova Chat, is a speech-generating unit that looks much like a small laptop that speaks for those who can’t. “I think of it as a souped up tablet,” Chapa said.
According to Chapa, one of the best features is that there is an amplifier on the back so Xavier can be heard in noisy places. “It’s important that he is able to be heard,” she added.
The device comes with its own carrying case and is used strictly for communication. According to Chapa, there are lots of vocabulary files that can be chosen that fit Xavier’s needs. He can choose just a picture, and the unit can also be programmed to show the picture and the matching word. Eventually, it can be just a word for him to choose. “The fact that we can customize it is amazing,” Chapa added. At first, Xavier would talk thru the device just one word at a time and he is now speaking full sentences with the help of Nova Chat. “I knew he would pick up on it,” Chapa added. Xavier is also beginning to talk without the device, and has added four new words in the last month, including “help please” as he was struggling to plug the charger in the wall. “I know that sounds like nothing, but it’s great for him,” Chapa added.
Right now, there are approximately 12 to 15 buttons on the screen. Xavier will tap a picture or a word that takes him to another screen with more pictures and words. Xavier has been using a Kindle for years, and he has taken to Nova Chat like a pro. “We take it everywhere,” Chapa added.
One of Xavier’s favorite activities is eating. While he was exploring on the Nova Chat not long after the unit arrived, Xavier said his first sentence all by himself thru the device, “I want, I need, I need cookies.” Chapa credits a lot of Xavier’s success to his teachers and aides in his all day kindergarten class.
Chapa has seen changes in Xavier in just the short time he has been using Nova Chat. Recently he came to his mother on his own and stated, “I need a shower” thru his device. In addition, Xavier uses some sign language. “He’s getting it,” said Chapa. According to Chapa, Xavier is not as frustrated as he used to be. Recently, Xavier had an eye infection and it took his mother, father and sister to get the eye drops in his eyes. Afterward, Chapa took the tablet over to him and asked how he felt. “I feel sad,” he said. It’s one of the first times he has been able to express in words how he feels.
“Never hearing your son and hearing what he has to say is a miracle,” Chapa said. “It’s been amazing.“