Unlocking potential: Camp Bruce serves kids with communication needs (2024)

As 6-year-old Eve Graham went through the snack line during Camp Bruce, she used her speech communication device to show what she wanted to eat and drink.

She walked away with Bugles, a krispy treat and water.

Then, she sat at a table with camp counselors Adrian Stutler and Whitney Brown, who are graduate students at Indiana State University studying speech-language pathology.

As Eve ate her snack, Stutler and Brown interacted playfully with her and asked her questions, and she used her device to answer.

“Do you need help?” Brown asked, and Eve touched a “help” icon that also said the word.

The little girl with pigtails giggled a lot, loved using her device and joyfully played little impromptu games with Stutler and Brown.

This is the second year for Eve to attend Camp Bruce, which is for individuals who have significant communication needs. It takes place at ISU’s Bayh College of Education.

It is conducted by camp director April Newton, who also is a speech pathologist for the Vigo County School Corp. and teaches a graduate class at ISU called augmentative and alternative communication.

Nineteen graduate students studying speech-language pathology are finishing the class and taking part in Camp Bruce, where they are getting first-hand experience in applying what they’ve learned in the classroom.

The 13 participating campers are ages 3 to 13, and several are nonverbal.

The graduate students “have been learning how to help kids communicate better,” Newton said.

“A lot of the children are very bright, but they cannot get the words out,” she said. “We always say, they have so much potential and it’s our job to untap that communication potential.”

The camp provides children with complex communication needs an opportunity to participate in a camp and to work on their communication skills.

The kids rotate through different stations planned by the graduate students that include literacy, motor skills/games, a glow room and sensory room.

They went bowling Wednesday, and at the conclusion of camp Thursday, they had awards and watched a video.

The campers may use their devices, sign language or a variety of other communication means.

ARC of the Wabash Valley funds the camp.

Parent Shane Graham has seen first-hand the benefits of Camp Bruce for his daughter, Eve, who obtained her own speech communication device earlier this year.

“She benefited tremendously from this camp last year, just by interacting with others. I think she’s realized in her own way she’s not alone,” he said. After last year, “We couldn’t not come back.”

Eve is able to articulate and enunciate better and has gained confidence. “It opened up a lot of conversation in the home we probably were lacking,” Graham said. He believes parents benefit from the camp just as much as the kids.

Last year, Eve relied heavily on sign language during Camp Bruce. Now, she signs and speaks to the best of her ability and uses the device to bridge the gap when there are communication issues.

She loves the device. “It’s almost like her phone. She won’t leave without it and she keeps track of where it’s at,” Graham said.

ISU graduate student Whitney Brown said that working with the children during the four-day camp has been fulfilling. “Becoming a speech-language pathologist has always been a dream of mine ,” she said.

Finally being able to put into practice what she’s learned in the classroom “has been super uplifting and helped me realize that I’ve made the right career choice.”

Parent Erin Withers, who has two non-verbal children attending the camp, said they love it and have returned for several years. It’s helped them learn new ways to communicate with others, and they enjoy the different activities.

On Thursday, after snacks, the children continued going through different stations.

Camper Jack Magnuson thoroughly enjoyed playing the game, “How I became a pirate.”

ISU student Hannah Higgins read from a book about pirates and at a certain point, she read a specific word, such as “eat” or “walk,” and the children had to find the word on their devices. They then placed a corresponding sticker with that word in a booklet.

At the end, Magnuson received a paper badge that read, “You have been declared an honorary pirate.” He also held up a picture of a parrot. He was delighted with the game and theme.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com. Follow Sue on X at @TribStarSue.

Unlocking potential: Camp Bruce serves kids with communication needs (2024)
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