It began with Kayla’s desire to find an original idea for a science fair project when she was only 14. Unexpectedly, she found her inspiration at a family gathering while watching her cousin. “I noticed that music really held Lorena’s attention and that she could remember the words to songs,” Kayla recalls.
She immediately began researching ASDs and found support for her observation. Studies suggest that children diagnosed with such disorders have strong musical abilities. Without missing a beat, Kayla created Sounds into SyllablesTM—a teaching system designed to help autistic children overcome their communication and social development difficulties by associating letters, nouns, verbs, and emotional states with musical notes, sound effects, and pictures.
It has been over two years since Kayla first began meeting with Lorena every week to test her teaching system and, so far, it has proven to be an effective tool. Her cousin is now able to read 26 words and has a strong understanding of human emotion. Needless to say, her parents are thrilled with the results and are in the process of learning how to use Sounds into SyllablesTM themselves so that Lorena can use it every day.
Kayla’s ultimate reward has been witnessing Lorena’s progress, but it has certainly not been her only prize. Her research has earned her dozens of awards, including the Encana Best in Fair Award at the 2006 Canada Wide Science Fair, First Place in the Behavioural and Social Sciences Category at the 2006 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and a spot in Youth in Motion’s Top 20 Under 20 ranking in 2006. “It’s mind-boggling,” she says.
What’s even more astounding is that Kayla has managed to develop, research, and promote Sounds into SyllablesTM while continuing to be an A+ student who participates in numerous athletic activities. “Her tenacity and her ability to multi-task are what make her a success,” explains Kathy Perrino, Kayla’s Grade 8 science teacher and mentor. “She is also ambitious, dedicated, gifted, talented, well-rounded, respected, and modest.”
Kayla plans to continue researching the effectiveness of Sounds into Syllables by introducing it to more autistic children. She is also in the process of getting it patented in Canada and the United States. “My ultimate hope is to be able to make my system available to other children like my cousin,” Kayla says. “I believe that opening the pathways to communication is the key to helping children with autism function in the world around them.”
Visit the Autism Society of Canada.
Learn more about the Youth Science Foundation Canada.
Get more information on the 2006 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Read Kayla’s abstract for her project from the 2005 Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair.
Read about Kayla’s win at the 2006 Canada Wide Science Fair.