This story begins in Northern California in the late 90s. Apple ranked 8th among computer companies and was struggling. But the troubled tech company launched a new ad campaign: Think different. It challenged people to try something new, think outside the box.

Meanwhile, just 30 miles south of Silicon Valley, The Bay School (TBS) was founded in Santa Cruz. And a boy named Elijah came into the world.

Elijah, now 19, is a student at TBS (a May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities); he has attended the school since he was six years old. He had been receiving in-home applied behavior analysis (ABA) services from another provider, but that ended when insurance refused to continue coverage, saying that Elijah was unlikely to make any further progress.

“That week,” recalls his mother, Gina, “we received a letter from May Institute offering in-home ABA support.” Insurance again refused to pay. “I’m very thankful to May for standing by us and not giving up. We submitted three times and then appealed to the state which required the insurance provider to cover this. It took eight months.” This past March, Elijah began receiving in-home ABA services from May Institute in conjunction with his school program.

Typically developing children learn different things at school and at home. There are synergies between the two environments and a natural generalization of skills. Elijah’s family has seen the importance of the connection between school and home. “I think that is a key to helping Elijah achieve his fullest potential,” notes Gina.

Alison Finitzer was the Assistant Director of Education at TBS before launching our in-home ABA services in California. Her familiarity with Elijah and his school program created an instant trust with the family. She was able to see the challenges and opportunities Elijah experienced at home.

“Elijah can speak a little, but unfamiliar listeners have a hard time with his articulation,” Alison explains. One day, Elijah was attempting to ask for something and Gina gave him his communications device. He pushed it away. Then he walked over to Alison and attempted to ask her, but she didn’t understand either. Frustrated, he picked up his iPhone and moved on to his next activity.

In that moment, Alison realized the additional potential of the iPhone. Elijah’s growing comfort with the iPhone — and the fact that he loved it — meant they could continue to increase its uses. So they collaborated with Elijah’s team at school, including his speech therapist, teacher, and the school’s executive director, to transition him to using speech software on his iPhone. Elijah quickly learned to say, “Can I have my iPhone?”

“We’ve also been teaching him how to do other things with his iPhone. He’ll use his calendar/reminder app to schedule all of his tasks: empty the dishwasher, take a shower, eat dinner, then play a game. He will ask for whatever help he may need along the way — but he is able to navigate between activities independently.”

With non-verbal learners, it is difficult to know when they understand something but cannot communicate it. “Elijah consistently surprises us with what he can respond to,” says Alison. “It’s exciting to see that he knows more than he’s been able to convey.”

Elijah and his grandparents share weekly video calls, and now he can have more of a conversation with them. He can also navigate the aisles at the supermarket with the shopping list on his phone. “He’s made so much progress in so many ways,” says Gina, with a mix of maternal pride and appreciation. “Alison and the TBS team continue to introduce apps/functions to his iPhone, allowing him more choices. Now he’s able to add reminders and receive reinforcement via his iPhone.”

New technology and Elijah’s ability to use it opens up new avenues of communication and greater independence as he approaches adulthood.

He continues to make progress once thought unlikely. Think different.


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