A pediatric RN who provides care for children with complex medical needs and developmental delays Kristen Lazuka created the "Gab n Go Harness" for the need of one young patient, but her experience with the need for communicative devices happened closer to home when she adopted her second child, Nikolas, from Romania. At 14 months, Nick who was non-verbal was diagnosed with autism. By 18 months, he used both sign language as well as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) for communication. He received his first augmentative communication device, a Dynavox MT4, when he was 6, and then soon after he began speaking. “It was an amazing process to watch as he grew. He is now 13 years old and an effective verbal communicator,” said Lauzka.
Around the time that Nick started his transition from his Dynavox to primarily speech, Kristen started working as a nurse for a little girl who did not have normal speech due to craniofacial deformities. She quickly realized that the Dynavox would be perfect for the child who began using it with Early Intervention and when she transitioned to school.
The child instantly took to technology. In first grade, her family bought her an iPod Touch and installed one of the first voice output apps. It quickly became obvious that her active, busy personality was not conducive to her using the iTouch the way it functionally needed to be used. It had to be held by her aide, who needed to remember to grab it every time the girl moved around the school, both in the class room and out. Kristen and the child’s occupational therapist began looking for solutions.
“We spent a lot of time online. We knew the market for AAC apps for mobile devices was exploding and expected to see many different products for accessible communication options. That was not the case. There were bulky speaker boxes, which were too heavy for her to put on a regular lanyard. For accessibility reasons, the armbands were not appropriate for this population of children,” said Lazuka.
An even bigger problem with using an AAC app on these devices was the lack of a solution that had a forward facing, easily heard, and understandable speaker. “Communication partners were always asking us, ‘What did she say?’ It was very frustrating for the child,” said Lazuka
The adults in her life were "translating" just as often as they would when she would use sign language. Or, even resorting to reading what she had typed into the device because they couldn't hear it. Frustrated with the lack of options, Lazuka developed her own solution – the "Gab n Go Harness," which solves all the problems that made AAC on a mobile device non-functional.
“I am thrilled to be able to make these already well developed devices and apps really work! The huge gap that existed is now closed, putting communication where it belongs – in the child’s hands.