Boy With Cerebral Palsy Finds A New Voice

By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Imagine never really knowing what your child is feeling because he cannot speak. Then think of the moment that all changes.

“Him not communicating with us is normal. We live with it. It’s just part of what our life is like,” said Tabitha LaBelle.

Her son, Isaiah, has cerebral palsy and what he can do is very limited.

But thanks to therapists at Gillette Children’s Hospital and his new buddy, Isaiah’s life is about to dramatically change.

It’s easy to tell what Isaiah LaBelle is feeling. But not what he’s thinking. That’s just a dream — a dream that has felt so out of reach all of Isaiah’s life.

Cerebral Palsy keeps the 7-year-old in a wheelchair.

“There was a lot of grief, there was a lot of grief surrounding that thought,” his mother said.

Tabitha has accepted the fact her son will likely never walk. He was diagnosed when he was 1.

“He clenched his fists a lot,” she said. “Even in pictures and stuff, you can see he kept his hands closed. He didn’t reach for toys.”

Isaiah can read and hear. He communicates with his body — a nod means “no.” He uses his right arm to signal “yes.”

“There’s a lot of days that Isaiah is incredibly frustrated,” Tabitha said. “We get a lot of tears, a lot of yelling from him, because he’s just not able to convey what he wants to do, or if there’s something wrong.”

Isaiah is essentially “trapped” inside his body. But he’s about to be freed — free to express himself in a new way, thanks to Tobii.

Tobii is the key to unlocking what’s inside Isaiah.

“You bring in a device like this, it opens up a lot of doors,” his mother said.

Tobii does the talking for Isaiah, verbally communicating what he’s thinking.

Isaiah’s therapist custom-designed Tobii with specific questions and answers. A small camera catches where Isaiah’s eye is. A red dot shows what he’s looking at.

Whatever he holds his eyes on for a few seconds tells the computer what he wants to say.

Isaiah is one of the only children in Minnesota who’s using Tobii to communicate, and therapists hope as his communication skills grow, he’ll become more independent.

“It’s endless possibilities,” Tabitha said. “It’s a priceless device.”

Isaiah’s excited, not frustrated, for the first time.

“There’s a lot locked up in there that will be able to come out,” said Janet Nelson, Isaiah’s teacher.

His teachers know school is a struggle. Tobii will be an important teaching tool at Montrose Elementary School.

“I’ll be able to actually work more directly with him and involve him more in what we’re doing, rather than him sitting back and just observing,” Nelson said.

A whole new world has opened up for this first grader. Family and friends hope to get the answers they’ve long seeked, like Isaiah’s favorite sports teams.

“We’re at the very beginning, and we don’t even know how good it could be,” Tabitha said.

Isaiah has so much to tell. He’ll now be able to do it on his own — a dream come true.


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