NBHS’ Matthew Davis’ senior project to help Maryville readers

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By Stephen Thomas

 HEBRON ESTATES - Matthew Davis will graduate from North Bullitt in 2011 with a 3.8 grade-point average.

Near the end of the semester, he looks forward to a senior trip to Disney World.

Like every senior student, Matthew is also working on a senior project. He is collecting new and gently-used books for the Maryville Elementary library.

Unlike other students, Matthew, 20, deals with cerebral palsy, which affects his speech and movement of his extremities.

The disability does not deter Matthew from living his life. If anything, it helps him and his family appreciate things a little more.

At home Matthew spends a lot of quality family time with his parents, Joe and Lisa. His younger brothers Ben, 11, and Nicholas, 8, both attend Maryville.

Over time the family learned to communicate with Matthew through non-verbal communication tactics. For example, Matthew rolls his eyes upward as a ‘yes’ to a question.

In the fall of 2010 Matthew received a new method of communication in the form of a Vmax computer with an EyeMax accessory, created by DynaVox Mayer-Johnson.

The Vmax portion of the computer features icons that the user can press, triggering a computerized voice to say a word or phrase.

The EyeMax accessory allows the user to stare at an icon on the screen. A camera attachment on the screen senses where the eyes are looking, triggering the voice.

Joe said using his eyes keeps Matthew from becoming as tired as attempting to constantly push buttons.

“When he has to use his fingers, he can’t bend them well, then he makes mistakes (pushing buttons) and it aggravates him,” said Joe. “Now there’s not as many mistakes.” 

Joe said the Vmax could be programmed to the user’s satisfaction, including specific words or phrases that are commonly used.

Matthew can update the computer to his satisfaction, adding his own settings such as photos and songs.

“We had an older device that was mostly text,” said Joe. “(Matthew) likes to eat, and he has restaurant icons that he can select rather than just food.”

“He really gets into Taylor Swift,” Lisa added.

Joe said the computer includes everyday chat phrases that Matthew can ask, especially at school with classmates, such as, “What did you do this weekend?”

“He’s really social,” said Lisa. “When he meets others it comes in handy.”

Lisa added that Matthew’s ability to begin conversations greatly assists him when someone he meets has pre-conceived notions based on his physical condition.

“He’s the exact opposite,” Lisa said. “He’s a social butterfly. He’s funny, nosy, he always wants to know what’s going on.”

Matthew’s parents mentioned that he gets along well with his fellow North Bullitt students. His new computer will further enhance those relationships.

“Times have changed,” Joe noted. “(Students like Matthew) are not just picked on. They want to be treated like anybody else.”

North Bullitt instructor Serena Jacobs deals with special needs students including Matthew. Their relationship goes beyond the school; Jacobs is the Davis Family’s neighbor.

“I’ve watched him grow up,” she said. “That helps a lot.”

Jacobs credited Matthew’s parents for treating him like a normal son all his life, which helped everyone else do the same.

“That’s why he is like he is,” Jacobs added. “He’s always been treated normal. He likes to have fun and has a sense of humor.”

Like Matthew’s parents, Jacobs has been around long enough to understand various communication tactics. She said family and friends were now getting used to implementing the computer just like Matthew.

“I know what he wants, but we have to get into the habit of it as well,” she said.

The computer increases Matthew’s opportunities to socialize with other students and become involved in lengthier conversations.

“He flirts with the girls,” Jacobs said. “He has a button that says ‘is it hot in here or is it just you’ and he uses that a lot.”

In the classroom Jacobs said Matthew can now complete more tasks involving on-demand writing.

“He still can’t complete a major essay, but he can do simple things,” she said.

Following graduation Matthew will continue classes at the Mattingly Center in Louisville, which hosts the Cerebral Palsy School of Louisville Foundation.

Jacobs said Matthew was excited when he saw a number of CP students at the program.

“He saw many of them in wheelchairs, and I think there was a comfort level for him in being around similar students,” said Jacobs. “He likes being with the North Bullitt students, but here he’ll be surrounded by students more like him. I think that’s why he’s excited to be going here.”

For now Matthew continues to focus on his upcoming graduation. He, along with Jacobs, will attend the North Bullitt senior trip to Disney World, Universal Studios and Cocoa Beach in Florida.

“We had to contact the airlines, they’ll put Matthew in a different chair that helps him to his seat,” Jacobs said. “He’ll be the first one off the plane when we arrive. We also had to make special hotel accommodations and get a special wheelchair that works on sand.”

Jacobs also mentioned Matthew was bringing sunglasses so he could “look at all the girls.”

“He didn’t want us to go,” Joe said. “He didn’t want to be stuck with his parents hanging around. He’s a typical student.”

Jacobs said Matthew has been successful at his book drive, collecting over 400 books. His goal is 1,000 books by early March.

Matthew wanted to help Maryville Elementary as his senior project. His parents said it was the first school he attended and that he still loves the Maryville community.

Maryville Kindergarten instructor Julie Miles was Matthew’s fifth-grade teacher at the school. She still keeps in touch with the Davis family with Matthew’s brothers at the school.

“I adore the family,” she said. “(Matthew) loves to come back and visit. He’s our little social boy. He attends many school and social activities.”

Miles recalled Matthew implementing his DynaVox system in fifth grade, a much more basic system that included push buttons for phrases.

“His dad would program homework assignments into it,” said Miles. “It was the very beginning of what he was able to have. Before he would use hand signals to answer questions.”

Miles knows Matthew as a common boy who is sociable, funny and even a bit sly, adding that he has grown into a typical high school student. She noted Matthew maintains a Facebook page where he still uses humor in his comments.

“He has such a personality and and a sense of humor,” said Miles. “Inside that body is an absolutely normal boy. It’s a blessing to know him.”

Matthew is collecting new or gently-used books at an elementary K-5 level. Anyone wishing to assist Matthew with his book drive may contact Serena Jacobs, 939-8273.