Reidsville, NC -- A little girl, whose mom said was stuck inside her own body unable to communicate, is now able to express herself for the first time in a decade.
It's all thanks to an electronic device that gives hope to this family and others.
The device allows Emily Kassay, 10, to select pictures to tell her likes and dislikes. That's something the people in her life hope will make her able to one day be independent.
"She's speaking in sentences now. She never, never communicated in sentences," said Christine Johnson, speech language pathologist.
Emily, who is diagnosed with autism, started losing her speech and communication skills at 15 months. By 19 months old, the skills were completely gone, her mother said.
"She was able to say momma, dadda, Dora, blue. All her favorite characters. Then it was gone," said Virginia Kassay, her mother.
Emily, who attends Bethany Elementary, has trained just 30 minutes on the device so far, but just three words have meant so much.
"After about 15 minutes she turned around and she saw me and she turned back to the machine. She had only been using it for about half an hour, and typed in, 'Love you mom,' and then got up an ran to me and hugged me. And, we were all crying. It was amazing. That was like super duper cool.It was the best. That was the first time i have ever heard her say, 'I love you mom,' ever. So, what a gift that was," Virginia Kassay said.
It's a gift that will continue to build their bond.
"Now I can learn who Emily is inside, instead of maybe who I'm programming her to be," she said.
That bond will form in even the most simple of ways.
"She typed in, 'I want tacos,' so we had to make her tacos for dinner, something i would have never have thought that she would eat. I didn't know she liked them!," Kassay said.
"She needs this. She absolutely needs this. And it is cruel not to give this device to this child," Johnson said.
The device she is using now is on loan for two weeks from the Rockingham County School System. The schools have two units. Rockingham County School leaders hope to get a $85,000 grant to buy eight devices, and create a loaner program, Johnson said. The goal is to give parents, like Kassay, an idea of what sort of unit best suits their child.
As it turns out, the unit on loan is not advanced enough for Emily. So, her mother is pleased to have tested it without spending the $2,500 on it. The unit she needs is $7,500.
The family said the money for it will have to come from private insurance, donations and fundraisers. Virginia Kassay has artwork on sale at Backstreet Buzz in Reidsville and Davidson County Community College. All proceeds help pay for the speech machine. She said art has helped Emily become more engaged in recent years.
To read about the art's impact on Emily, click here.
WFMY News 2