Fourth-grader Joseph Robarge enjoys leading his class in the Pledge of Allegiance and taking attendance at the start of the school day. These days, he also has a big smile and more self-confidence, after being given the gift of communication.

Joseph Robarge, a fourth-grade student at Clinton Elementary School, enjoys leading his class in the Pledge of Allegiance and taking attendance at the start of the school day. These days, he also has a big smile and more self-confidence, after being given the gift of communication through a device that allows him to type out words.

Despite receiving speech therapy since he was a preschooler, Joseph still has difficulty talking. Like any other child his age, the youngster enjoys games, playing outside and joking around. But due to an undetermined condition, he has been unable to speak many words that could be understood by anyone outside his family and people who have known him a long time.

That is changing due to the purchase of a device that helps him communicate. The Vantage Lite has multiple screens that enable Joseph to type out answers either by the letter, by the word or by phrase.

“He is much more social,” said Gail Elliott, his Lenawee Intermediate School District speech-language pathologist. “We had been trying different devices through The Learning Station in Lansing but were turned down for purchase by Medicaid.”

“It has made him want to talk more on his own,” said resource room teacher Sue Ries. “He has learned quickly and is really good at it.”

After many attempts to obtain funding through insurance, a fundraising campaign was organized to purchase a communication device. Thanks to the community, school, family and friends, Robarge now has a Vantage Lite device.

Contributions also came from Steve Hazzard at Clinton-Tecumseh Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, the Clinton Community Foundation, Civitan, Clinton Rotary, Knights of Columbus, Merillat Foundation, the American Legion, Clinton Community Schools and the LISD.

By the beginning of the school year, $7,000 had been raised to purchase the Vantage Lite. When it arrived Nov. 5, Joseph showed it off, saying, “Mine.”

The Prentke Romich Co. of Cleveland, which manufactures the vocal communication assistance device, has been making communication devices since 1964. According to the company’s Web site, the first Minspeak system was introduced in 1982.

Elliott said teachers and classmates have noticed an increase in how much Joseph is talking now, as uses his device to take attendance in his classroom, as well as leading the Pledge. He also has words programmed so he can participate in science discussions and take tests.

“It has been a tremendous help,” teacher Carl Zirk said. “We’ve programmed key words into the machine and he uses them to help him in school work.”

Joseph is using the Vantage to study math and money, practice reading words and talk about the weather and calendar. He can take the device to a restaurant and order for himself. His favorite place to eat these days is Subway.

“Mom says ‘eat healthy,’” he said.

In class, Joseph locates the icons and builds sentences, and is prompted to use speech along with the device. He enjoys playing games such as Uno, Hide and Go Seek, Guess Who and Checkers while using the talker to give the commands.

The device is easily connected to a computer, which gives him the opportunity to hone his already considerable typing skills, Zirk said.

When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, Joseph quickly finds the screen that lists jobs and hits the button.

“Fireman,” the machine said.

Daily Telegram