When Robert first came to the Early Learning Center, he was three years old and had not yet learned how to walk.
“He was essentially nonverbal and navigating a classroom was a lot of work for him,” said Karen McClure-Richard, director of the Early Learning Center.
“When he started there, his attention span wasn’t long enough to sit in the group,” recalled his mother, Mariah.
Two years later, not only is he running, dancing and going down the slide by himself, he’s communicating what he wants in the classroom and is the leader of Song Time.
Robert never lets his disability hold him back.
“He’s not afraid to try new things,” continued Karen.
Pine Tree Society’s speech language team partnered with his teachers on strategies to build Robert’s communication skills. They developed a picture board and, through the process, discovered music was a motivator for him.
“They told us that music is the best way for Robert to learn. When he comes home from school he will be doing these hand motions and dancing and it goes with a particular song,” Mariah said. “When he learns things at school, they always let us know so we can continue it at home.”
His favorite is ‘The Bumble Bee Song.’ By pointing to a picture on his picture board, Robert would request that the class sing his favorite song.
“We realized he had the capacity to understand that if he pointed to things, he could communicate what he wants,” said Karen. “So, we did a full evaluation with our speech language team and they determined he would be successful with a touch screen device for communicating.
The team was right. A touch screen, an electronic device that allows Robert to select words and provides voice output, has made a transformational difference for him.
Like music, food is a big motivator for him and one of his favorite things to say on his touch screen is “I want to eat Goldfish crackers.”
“Everyone knows that’s Robert’s favorite food,” said Karen. “But it’s really important for him to be able to communicate that. It takes three buttons on three different pages and he has the ability to do it.”
In addition to using his touch screen, he can now also verbalize some words.
“For example, he likes to say ‘mad’ when he doesn’t get what he wants,” Karen laughed. “Part of learning to communicate is understanding that just because you ask for it, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.”
His touch screen also became a learning opportunity for his classmates.
“We had to teach the other children that this is Robert’s voice, not a toy,” said Karen.
“Without that device I’m not sure we would know he knows his colors and his numbers,” said his mother. “And these are things he needs to understand heading into Kindergarten.”
After two years at the Early Learning Center, he’s ready to transition to Kindergarten in the fall.
“I have no fear of him going to Kindergarten,” said Mariah. “They have definitely prepared him. We were blessed with the best. I couldn’t imagine our world without them.”