Adler's Voice


Nine-year-old Adler Utzman lives with a combination of symptoms and conditions, including cerebral palsy, speech apraxia, and a sensory integration disorder. The mix of symptoms make Adler's condition unique and difficult to understand – some of the characteristics and nuances he displays lead people to think he's autistic, though he isn't. Few of Adler's disabilities are visible and he appears to be a fairly typical kid from the outside.  Adler can only speak a few words and will make other noises and sounds. 


No one knows exactly what goes on inside Adler's mind. His parents and teachers sometimes struggle to relate and wonder: How much does he understand and what kind of possibilities exist for him? Adler recently started using an iPad in order to help him communicate and learn. His family hopes the technology will help Adler begin to express himself so he can better communicate with the outside world.

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Adler Utzman stares up at a beam of sunlight coming through a bus window on his way to a swimming class at the Juniper Swim and Fitness Center in Bend. He stares at the sun, his mom, Stephanie believes, due to his sensory integration disorder. "He's craving the sensory input so much he's drawn to it, and can't pull himself away from it," she said.

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Stephanie Utzman helps Adler choose what he will eat for breakfast as three-year-old Jonah watches while eating his breakfast at the Utzman's home in Bend. Adler uses an iPad with an app called Proloquo2Go, which uses pictures to help Adler make choices. Adler has speech apraxia and a few other conditions where he can speak only a few words, though he understands some language. The Utzmans take pictures of food and let Adler point to what he wants to help him decide. The app speaks the name of the food as well. Before using the iPad, the Utzmans would have to make several different meals to see what Adler would eat. Crackers are his favorite food and something Adler will almost always eat.

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Stephanie Utzman helps Adler get his shoes on in the morning as Adler's little brother, Jonah, wears his dad's shoes and grabs his own at the Utzman's home in Bend.

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Adler laughs while floating on his back in the pool with Elk Meadow Life Skills Education Assistant Renee Kiger during an adaptive swim class Adler goes to weekly during the school year at Juniper Swim and Fitness Center in Bend. "That's one of his favorite times - when he's in the pool," Kiger said. Adler's mom, Stephanie, thinks he enjoys the sensory feedback he gets from the water.

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Fourth-grader Ashton Bowlin rides on the back of a tricycle Adler rides through the halls of his school during recess. Ashton volunteers to be a peer buddy, where she helps watch Adler at recess as he needs constant supervision.

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Adler plays with a toy vacuum cleaner in front of a mirror on the floor of the living room in the Utzmans' home in Bend. Adler is often drawn to reflections and will stare and play in front of the mirror for hours. The Utzmans removed the mirror for about a year but recently let him use it again. They aren't sure why exactly he seems fascinated with mirrors. "With Adler, we do a lot of guessing," Stephanie Utzman said.

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Stephanie changes Adler's diaper after waking him up in the morning at their home in Bend. Adler was born with an imperforate anus, a birth defect in which the rectum is malformed. It was corrected with surgery after birth. Adler has also had reflux problems and doctors didn't think he'd be able to eat and digest normally, and was on a liquid-only diet until age 2. He has since improved and no longer takes medication for his reflux issues and can eat regular food.

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Stephanie carries Adler downstairs for breakfast as little brother Jonah leads the way at their home in Bend. Adler has cerebral palsy where he has low muscle tone, or hypotonia, and difficulty going up stairs. Doctors didn't think Adler would be able to walk, but he's learned and has improved, and can mostly walk normally.
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Adler works with Life Skills Education Assistant Lisa Shelden on his iPad while his classmates work on writing exercises at Elk Meadow Elementary School in Bend. Shelden was helping Adler use apps for learning letters and words. Adler spends most of his day in the Life Skills department at Elk Meadow, but spends a little time in the classroom with his peers.

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Elk Meadow Elementary Life Skills Education Assistant Maria Elder, left, gives Adler a high-five after Adler completed a puzzle on his iPad during a school day in Bend. Adler uses the iPad for games and activities at school.

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St. Charles Occupational Therapist Sue Siefkem helps Adler put his shoes on in a mirror after a recent therapy session at St. Charles as occupational therapy student Natalie Schroeder, right, watches. Adler often is drawn to reflections and will play in front of a mirror.

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St. Charles Occupational Therapist Sue Siefkem works with Adler on a swing during a recent therapy session at St. Charles. Siefkem does activities with Adler that help with balance, communication and coordination.

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Life Skills Education Assistant Lisa Shelden offers a drink to Adler during snack time at Elk Meadow in Bend. The iPad has helped Adler to communicate what he wants, especially during snacks and meals.
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Adler sits on the floor in the living room of his home Bend. The curtains are blocked as Adler will stare at the sun intensely. Stephanie said Adler has improved a lot in the last few years and hopes he's able to "live adult life to maximum potential," learning to read and verbally communicate basic needs, as well as identifying emotions and feelings.

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