XENIA — All became calm when a busy, bubbly 4-year-old heard her mom’s voice reading “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” over the speakers.
Addie Kay Stevens, of Beavercreek, is the first Greene County Board of Developmental Disabilities (GCBDD) client to receive an MP3 player full of recordings of her parents reading stories.
Story Chain director Jonathan Platt, of Yellow Springs, handed the device — stuck with stickers and wrapped in paper — to an eager Addie Kay Jan. 15 at the GCBDD office in Xenia.
Last month, Story Chain — the local non-profit that enables incarcerated parents to record book readings for their children — debuted its mobile 200-book library cabinet, now stationed at the Greene County Adult Detention Center. The cabinet allows inmates to sign up for the program while in the jail and pick a book off the shelves.
Story Chain is branching out — outside of jails, that is — to help autistic individuals in Greene County, like Addie Kay.
“This is a different avenue that Story Chain is taking,” Platt said. “We are working with families who want to connect with their autistic kids and see if this MP3 player will help them throughout the day.”
Although at first more interested in the stickers, and unimpressed by the ear-bud style headphones, the exchange changed course when Addie Kay recognized the voice coming from the computer speakers. It was the voice of her mom, Kayla Stevens, who was seated beside her.
For Addie Kay, all the people watching her, the clicking cameras, disappeared for a moment. She flipped the pages of the alphabet board book to the rhythm of the sound.
“I think the book helped keep her attention … realize Mommy’s voice is on, whereas a lot of the time I feel like we’re kind of in the background for her,” Stevens said. “But that book gives her a focal point so she can actually hear some things she normally wouldn’t pay attention to.”
Thanks to a little portable audio player, the 4-year-old now has access to 13 audio files — or 90 minutes’ worth of stories read by her parents, and Bible readings and prayers told by her grandmother.
Platt and the Stevens family met eight times over the past few months to establish goals, practice elocution with theater and voice specialists, and record the stories at WYSO. Platt’s assistant, his 10-year-old daughter Stella, has worked with him from the beginning — listening to recordings, editing, and watching Addie Kay.
Stevens hopes the stories will become a part of her daughter’s everyday routine, perhaps acting as a personalized “go-to” when she’s having a tough time.
“I really hope she can use it to reassure herself, especially when she starts going to regular school again on the bus. Those were always hard transitions for her,” Stevens said.
The mother of three thinks the new tool will not only keep her entertained but may also impact her behavior, socialization, and basic literacy skills.
“It’s good for her to be able to sit down and actually hear another human voice — not a Muppet, not a cartoon — a real person in her life,” Stevens said. “The extra emotion in those words, instead of being flat, is really important for her.”
While the change in routine will be an adjustment, this set of stories is just the beginning. The MP3 player can grow with the child, Platt explained, as important people in her life, maybe even a teacher, add more stories.
After the story had played a couple times, Addie Kay raised her arms, signaling her mother to pick her up.
“Are you happy?” Stevens asked her daughter.
Addie Kay responded by wrapping her arms tightly around her mother’s neck.