At The Center for Discovery®, our forward-thinking and innovative team of speech pathologists have developed an initiative referred to as C.H.A.T.T (Communication Happens All the Time), which places a profound emphasis on the importance of communication in all aspects of life. Each individual who receives speech services here receives a broad assessment to determine the most suitable strategy, technology, device, or system that would best support their varying communication needs. Once an approach is established, staff members receive training on how each individual uses their respective communication systems, with the expectation that they will have access to this throughout their day to enable staff-to-student and peer-to-peer communication. The team’s hope is that through C.H.A.T.T, individuals will be able to fulfill their own needs and wants through symbolic communication, just as a verbally expressive individual would. Requesting, rejecting, greeting others, taking leave, interjecting humor, and engaging in reciprocal interactions are among the communicative acts our speech department hopes to come to fruition. Each day, they work with individuals to build meaningful and lasting friendships – not only with staff, but with their families, too. The first time an individual says “hello” or “drink”, is cause for celebration. And one such celebration is a story – about Heather – that we’d like to share.

Heather, one of our residents here, has been utilizing her iPad for a number of years, to assist with communication as a way to connect and interact with her family. For years, she’s been engaging with her loved ones by watching video, looking at pictures, and listening to her mother singing, along with viewing clips of her theatrical shows.

Frequently, she will FaceTime with her family but up until recently, it was always facilitated by staff. This time, it was different. This time, she initiated the call.

It was a relaxing Saturday and she was in her room listening to music that some of the staff had set for her. Typically, she’ll scroll through the photos on her iPad and at some point, she must have pressed the FaceTime icon next to her mother’s profile. It just so happened at that moment, Nicole, her Speech-Language Pathologist, walked in and saw her FaceTiming her mother!

Nicole provides Heather with ongoing, weekly speech therapy, and inputs information into her iPad for her to use. Nicole then trains the house staff where Heather lives, who work with her to use that information during mealtime, ADL’s, and leisure, etc., in order to communicate her wants and needs. According to Nicole, her mom typically schedules FaceTime dates, which is something the house staff assist with. Since Heather is incredibly observant, she’s likely carried over that skill – which is tremendous!

There are a few, other remarkable aspects from Heather’s team’s many adaptations and assistive technology to help her physically, as she has a significant tremor. Touching the iPad and leveraging communication devices come as no small feat for her, but the team works with her to identify the most natural visual that will help her engage effectively in expressing herself. Together, Heather and the team use a communication app on her iPad, called Proloquo2G, which they arranged for her based on her needs. She’s been using the app for quite a few years, but it’s only been in this recent year that Heather’s taken an interest in it. “Her receptive language skills, recall, and her ability to use executive functioning are outstanding. She is really grasping that she can truly make things happen for herself if she really wants something. Heather has one of the best and loving support systems with not only her family, but the household staff,” mentions Nicole, her SLP.  And when Nicole isn’t there for speech therapy, the house staff make additions to the app, as needed, and really aid Heather in generalizing the skills she has acquired.

It really is a team effort – one that hasn’t gone unnoticed. As her mother, Nancy expressed via email to the team,

“I just received the greatest gift, and you will not believe this! Heather just FaceTimed me – all by herself! Nicole, the Speech Therapist, happened to come in while she was talking to me and held the iPad so I could see her! Before Nicole arrived, we had lost the connection a few times and each time she answered when I called back. Heather managed to find and hit the green button all by herself and had a lot to say! Heather made me so happy – she made my year! Thank you all so much for what you do!”

It’s the little things in life that can be so profound and can have so much of an impact. And it’s what we witness here every single day – the power of communicationthe power of kindnessthe power of teamwork, the power of focusing on an individual’s ability – not their disability.

What happens here truly does matter everywhere.

For more information about our Medical and Clinical Services, including Speech-Language Pathology and our C.H.A.T.T initiative, please contact Richard Humleker, Vice President of Development, at