Success & News Stories

Holden Gerlach

Boy finds voice he – and his family – can rely on
Holden Gerlach counts trains, bowling, the zoo and the playground among his favorite things. The 9-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania also enjoys the company of his sister Bryn, 7, whether at the social play group they attend together or while playing outside with Scout, their golden retriever.

Holden Gerlach

For most of his life, expressing likes and dislikes has been a great challenge for Holden, who is non-verbal due to the effects of autism. Interpreting his thoughts proved a puzzle for Heidi and Jeff Gerlach as they tried to make sense of the simple requests for snacks or to be carried that their son articulated through gestures and murmurs, often unhappily. But to the delight of his parents and other familiar listeners, the guessing has subsided in the nearly two years that Holden has used a DynaVox V to communicate.

Introduced to the V at The Sheila and Milton Fine Classrooms for Students with Autism at The Day School at the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh, Holden and his family have come to appreciate that communication means more than just talking. His newfound ability to convey messages clearly has helped others get to know him as a person with unique preferences, fears and hopes – just like anybody else.

The Gerlachs hope Holden will become more self-reliant with time, and believe that the V will be instrumental in setting the foundation for his independence because it ensures a direct way to ask for help. Whether the task he needs help with is fixing a broken toy or finding his shoes, Holden can turn to his "Help Me" page of vocabulary on the dynamic-display of the V and let someone know what's on his mind with the simple press of a button. Visual scenes on the device make it easy to talk about places he likes to visit – the park, for instance. The V gives Holden a sharp tool for language development as it pairs words with their pictorial representations, spellings and sounds through its voice-output component.

Holden is taking his communication skills to another level using behavioral support pages on the V as modified by his dad. Drawing on teachable moments and positive reinforcement, Jeff and Heidi Gerlach encourage Holden to use the pages so he learns the responsibility and empowerment that comes with making everyday choices. Holden turns to the pages, after school, for instance, to let his parents know that he will feed the dogs or complete another chore before doing puzzles or something fun. Mealtime vocabulary consisting of words and symbols reminds Holden that he can have pretzels if he finishes half his dinner. If he cleans his plate, he can request a cookie, a more desirable treat.

Surrounded by warm and caring people, Holden knows that his voice will not go unheard. Through technology, he is discovering welcome byproducts of solid communication: weighing his options and stating his desires.

"It makes life so much easier for him – and for us," Heidi Gerlach said.

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