New eye-gaze technologies that are housed at Montefiore, however, are making communication possible. The eye-gaze system, which costs between $10,000 and $15,000, tracks eye movements using cameras and reflected infrared light when the patient is seated in front of the eye-gaze monitor, which is very similar to a computer screen.
Children may, for example, be asked to identify a specific cartoon character from among numerous others; the children who cannot gesture are able to point out the character by staring at it. Other times children may be able to activate music or play videos by staring at certain images.
For parents who have spent years trying to communicate with their daughters, finally knowing that their daughter understands language can be overwhelming.
In fact, when the Rett Syndrome Center opened, many researchers expected that the team's first focus would be on feeding, which is a physical need. However, after surveying parents of children with Rett, it became apparent that communication should be a main focus. With the ability to communicate through eye-gaze technologies, children can make choices (like what to have for lunch), express pain, or show that they are capable of learning.
"The eye-gaze test shows that there is a cognitive process going on," Dr. Djukic says. "To communicate through language is a very human need -- it's what makes us human. The eye-gaze technology opens up the world of communication for these little girls."