Not long ago Aurora Townsend and her family were afraid that she would be unable to follow her dream of attending college to become a Neurobiologist. Aurora has Toxic Encephalopathy and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome–disabilities that cause her body to respond intensely to substances in the environment many of us do not notice. Aurora’s mom Kristina explained, “When Aurora is in a classroom with 30 kids, she’s also in the room with all of their laundry products, personal hygiene products, and fragrances. It causes Aurora to have a hard time breathing and she gets migraines, central nervous system pain, very tired and experiences cognitive decline.”
Because Aurora’s body is so incompatible with her school environment, she could not attend classes in person. Online classes would not be an option for her because her health condition affects Aurora’s ability for sustained visual attention.
Aurora’s parent Kristina, who also has a disability, was determined to find a solution to help her daughter. She remembers thinking, “I need all the help I can get.” She contacted Raising Special Kids for assistance and began learning about her rights. She learned about accommodations and modifications, supplementary supports and services, and the continuum of educational placements. She remembers learning the importance of using specific terminology with professionals, like “medically necessary,” which have a precise meaning for professionals.
While researching assistive technology options for her daughter, Kristina discovered a possible solution. After much discussion of the pros and cons and possible alternatives; the IEP team agreed that a robotic device, called a VGo, would best meet Aurora’s unique needs. A VGo is a robotic telepresence that, according to www.vgocom.com, some users describe as their personal “avatar”. A student can hear, talk, interact and see through the VGo into the classroom with their face appearing on the VGo screen. It allows a student the ability to participate in the class, collaborate with peers, and socialize.
Aurora’s VGo is the first to be used in a school in Arizona. Now Aurora can participate with her classmates as her virtual self moves about the environment entirely by remote control. Kristina recommends, “learn about your child’s rights and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”