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October 8, 2010 / paperkids

Reach to teach : it’s a Good Idea

I got an email from from a friend the other day in regards to a pilot project called Reach to Teach, created by  HUS (Help Us Speak), a  non-profit organization.  The project entails a  literacy lab in Los Angeles which will be set up to help special needs children.  It is in the running for 50K in the  Pepsi Refresh giveaway.  Reach to Teach is a  literacy based, technology rich, learning environment for learners who are low communicative and nonverbal.  Many times, for  those children who are nonverbal or have severe communication deficits due to a number of disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy, literacy is overlooked or replaced with more functional skills.  Many times schools do not always have the tools they need to reach these special children.  This program will focus on bringing reading and communication skills to these individuals who need extra support and specialized teaching.  There are a lot of great ideas out there, no doubt, but when I began to read about this lab, I just couldn’t help but to grin from ear to ear.  This, I thought, is EXACTLY what we need!

The Goals of Reach to Teach are:

  • teach reading readiness skills to learners with special needs
  • adapt and modify educational material for appropriate access
  • create a learning and teaching model for each learner
  • provide specialized training for parents, educators, professionals


When Emma was four years old and in the midst of many sleepless nights and tantrums, I had a dear friend who volunteered her time to help teach Emma and I PECS (Picture Exchange System).  Amanda worked for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) in Tampa which served to help support parents and help to educate.  She went above and beyond in helping to set us up with Emma’s first form of communication.  For the first time, she was able to let us know what she wanted to eat, do, and where she wanted to go.  It really helped her and gave her some control and a small voice.

After we moved back to California when Emma was around 5, she began ABA (applied behavior analysis) therapy which furthered her expressive as she began to learn how to imitate and follow direction while also aquiring more functional skills.  She was in a good school program as well and continued to use PECS.  When she was six or seven, with the help of Kelly, who was with dynavox at the time, and Emma’s school speech pathologist and teacher, we were able to get  a Dynavox V, which is an AAC device (augmented communication) with voice output.  She was able to navigate through pages of PECS on this small portable computer and when she would push the picture, it would talk:  “I want juice.”

When she was in second grade, Emma was introduced to a reading program called Reading Mastery.  I’ve since discovered that this was when Emma learned how to read.  At the time, she was not able to communicate the extent of what she’d learned in that class.  It wasn’t until I was able to tap into this with her after I studied and watched Soma working with Dov using the pointing method, that we were able to bring it all together.

Yesterday I told Emma about Reach to Teach.  I asked her if she felt like the PECS and the dynavox helped her.

Emma:  yes

Me:  “What do you feel like helped you the most to get where you are?”

Emma:  the reading program

I know that no two kids are alike and that every child has their own unique journey of learning and communication.  All the more reason for those nonverbal and low communicative children to be given the opportunity to get the extra help they need to go the distance.   Having the ability to read and having a way to express your thoughts and desires is something that we all take for granted.  I can’t express enough how important I feel these skills are to children such as these.  How they long for the world  to keep believing in them and lending support.  As you see, this has been a journey  for Emma, as it is with every child that must cross valleys and climb mountains in order to find their voice.   They are not giving up and neither should we.   I am putting my vote in every day!

If you would like to also, vote everyday in three ways through the month of October here is the link to the Pepsi Refresh Project:

  • 1. Vote on the WEB :
  • 2. Vote on facebook
  • 3. text to vote: 73774 message: 103039

Here is a flyer for HUS if you would like more info HUS flyer

To quote the HUS organization:  “Literacy is a gift that lasts a lifetime!”  I couldn’t agree more.


Leave a Comment
  1. Katie Cameron / Oct 8 2010 11:48 pm

    I voted and will every day. Come on fellow readers – VOTE!
    They are currently being beaten out by a blind cat shelter!! (not that there’s anything wrong with helping blind cats, but… )

  2. Tracy / Oct 9 2010 3:38 pm

    Thank you for the post of REACH to Teach!!! It is an amazing idea that will come to fruition with your help and your votes, you spreading the work as well as you do. Emma sounds like she is doing so great!!! All of our kids can rock with communication and literacy using alternative methods. Txt. to 73774 msg. 103039 or go on facebook at our page Help Us Speak, a non-profit 501c3 org. Thanks so much for your votes!!!!

    Personally I am glad you found us because your blog looks like an great resource for me an my son Lucas.

    Take Care,

  3. Molly / Oct 9 2010 7:32 pm

    I VOTED !!!!! : )

  4. Tiffany Cook / Oct 13 2010 1:47 pm

    I am thrilled to hear that PECS has helped another child. My youngest brother, Hunter, had a lot of problems learning how to speak. He is 9 now, like Emma, and we had him seen at the age of two and three by a occupational therapist here for the verbal delay. They recommended PECS to us and we bought an entire set. Those thousands of cards seemed daunting, but they helped Hunter communicate with us – Something we had been so desperate to do for so long. When he finally began to speak, it was like Emma; full sentences and remarkable intelligence. As if he were waiting until he was an expert so that he could show off. Once hunter began talking, we gave all the cards to a dear friend of ours who has a son with Autism like Emma and doesn’t speak. They helped him a lot too. He is 16 and still uses them from when we gave them to him when he was 12. I love the success you are having with your sweet daughter, and I watched the video on your ‘About’ page. You are right – Emma is giving hope to MANY and we need more like her. Give her hugs for me! feel free to email me if you would like at

    • paperkids / Oct 13 2010 6:26 pm

      Thanks for sharing! That is amazing about Hunter! It is my daughter’s greatest wish to speak some day. My son has autism too and has language but we may start using PECS to try to increase his expressive. I think it’s a wonderful tool and can make a huge difference.

      • Tiffany Cook / Oct 14 2010 12:53 am

        I have no doubt at all in my mind that she will speak. and she will amaze everyone by doing so. Thank you for replying to me. I saw this blog linked on a facebook page i am a fan of, Autism Speaks, and followed it here. I am very glad I did. Best of luck and hugs as well to your son. :]

  5. Sheila / Oct 13 2010 2:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ll vote and pass this on to friends and family.

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