Dr. Upledger, Barb and Graham TresnessbarbandfamBarbara Huntress Tresness’s journey to becoming a leading advocate for nonverbal communicators and limited communicators and to founding CHAT Collective® began in 2000, when her son, Graham, was born with cerebral palsy. Finding herself, the local medical community and the public school system poorly equipped to meet the needs of a nonverbal child, she embarked upon a worldwide search for techniques, technologies and treatments to free Graham from the walls of silence that imprisoned him.

After a decade of frustration and frequent medical emergencies that resulted from his inability to communicate, Graham “emerged” a bright, happy and engaging child through the use of assistive technologies and innovative therapies that now allow him to converse with family, friends, teachers and medical providers.

It was during these trying years that Barb discovered such ground-breaking approaches as craniosacral therapy (CST) and dolphin assisted therapy, pioneered by Dr John Upledger of the Upledger Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The dramatic effect these had on Graham inspired her in 2005 to become a licensed massage therapist and craniosacral therapist. CST is non-invasive form of alternative medicine that involves gently manipulating the spinal and cranial bones to release tension in the central nervous system, allowing the entire body to relax and to self-correct. It has been shown to be beneficial in treating concussions, TMJ, chronic pain, whiplash, insomnia, tinnitus and various symptoms of Alzheimers, cerebral palsy and autism.

Since 2006, Barb has served as support therapist at the Upledger Institute working directly with Dr. Upledger and as a lead therapist in the dolphin assisted therapy program (DATP) in Freeport, Bahamas. In 2010, she established Ultimate Yu, a massage therapy practice in upstate New York, where she has helped hundreds of patients through craniosacral therapy.

In 2013, Barb and her husband, Greg Tresness, founded and funded a program at the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University that became the precursor to CHAT Collective®. Also called CHAT (but initially an acronym for Communication Hope through Assistive Technology), the program’s mission was to assist youth with disabilities who communicate using technology to open their voices to the world and to create communities among CHAT families for sharing friendship, fun and learning. Among its successes were the development of both an online interactive fun center for children and a resource center for parents, and the hosting of a weeklong “CHAT Camp” for families.

With the founding of CHAT Collective®, Barb has focused on identifying and creating awareness of those with communications challenges as “nonverbal communicators” and “limited communicators.” She has also developed a suite of communications systems to aid verbal, nonverbal and limited communicators in engaging with each other.

Barb currently serves on the BBI Board of Advisors and previously, she held leadership positions on the boards of the Onondaga County Special Children’s Services (Early Intervention), the Boys and Girls Clubs of Syracuse and the Eldercare Foundation. Barb received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Vermont, and lives with her husband and three sons in Manlius, NY.

[box] Barb is a passionate and inspirational speaker who offers insight and valuable “take- aways” and resources for advocacy, community, professional and trade groups. If you are interested in having Barb speak at your organization’s conference or event, just click below.



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