Special Needs = Special Kids 2

Smyrna third-grader, Dylan Erwin, 
is a special needs success story

Last year, nine-year-old Dylan Erwin could hardly speak, much less read. Today, after a year in the classroom of Kelly O’Connell he reads at grade level and speaks in short sentences. He was also chosen as a Student of the Month last school year at Nickajack Elementary School.

“To Kelly it didn’t matter that he couldn’t speak clearly, that he didn’t say one word until he was five. Other teachers would just put him in the back row and ignore him,” says his mother, Miranda. “Kelly was the first teacher that wanted to know what he knew. She gave a damn and used computers to reach him. She thinks outside the box.”

Dylan’s battles may ring true with parents of non-typical children who are hard to define, much less help. Miranda says, “he’s had bad teachers. He’s had good teachers. He’s had several diagnoses…We’d do the IEP at school and no one was reading it, much less following it,” she says. “We needed help from the school and private help. I understand the limitations of the schools. There’s too many kids needing help.”

O’Connell, who was at Kemp Elementary School in Powder Springs prior to Nickajack, was quickly inundated with special needs students others couldn’t reach. “Everyone started taking their problems to me,” she says. ”

O’Connell, who calls herself a rule breaker, says that Dylan further opened her eyes in regards to teaching children with special needs. Reaching Dylan wasn’t easy, she says. “He was difficult. He can’t communicate well and had some behavior problems. He thrived off the other kids and if they would do something wrong, he’d mimic them and repeat it over and over. He wouldn’t complete his work and would just grunt or do whatever he wanted.”

However, once she started using the iPad and different computer programs, his intellect exploded. “If you watch these kids you can see they have a lot inside them,” says O’Donnell. “You just have to pull it out. Dylan, would do amazing things. It was obvious he was a problem solver, which made him good at math. He wasn’t intellectually disabled.”

Dylan, who does not take medication, now reads at grade level and loves Winnie the Pooh. Next year he will be in a third-grade inclusion class which includes both typical and non-typical children. He now loves doing homework, reading and doing math problems with his brother Jacob.

Kelly is quick to say not all kids will have a breakthrough like Dylan. “There is a limit to what some of these kids can do. It’s a path. They learn differently and you have to find ways to reach them.”

For Miranda, she credits Kelly as well as his support system including his pediatrician, an applied behavior analysis therapist, speech therapist as well as her son Jacob and her husband Doug, a CPA.

Miranda says parents in similar situations should work, not fight, with the teachers. “Quit fighting the system and hiring lawyers. Visit the teachers. Know your options,” she says.

As for Dylan, he already knows his future path. He wants to be a teacher.