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A Miracle in the Making


This is a story of compassion, determination, faith and lots of love. Together, they transformed a little boy’s life, giving his family hope for the future. It’s also about the professionals at Adventist Health Glendale’s Play to Learn Center—and how they helped make it happen.

At age two, Aren wasn’t developing like other toddlers his age. Seemingly unaware of his surroundings, he was unable to walk, form words, chew his food or even drink through a straw. Aren’s brain seemed to be disconnected from his body.

He was soon diagnosed with autism, apraxia of speech and dyspraxia, which limits speech ability and impairs fine-and-gross motor coordination.

Facing extraordinary challenges raising Aren, his parents were referred to Adventist Health Glendale’s Play to Learn Center—widely recognized for its success with developmentally disabled children.

The Center’s team of physical and occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists began working with Aren and his family. Marie Elena Barth, a speech pathologist and former elementary school teacher, was among the team members who formed a special bond with the child.

Marie discovered that music—singing nursery rhymes—was the magic wand that led to the first meaningful communication with Aren. Eager to find another medium for Aren to make his wants and needs known, Marie began experimenting with an iPad.

Meanwhile, occupational therapist Steven Bates worked relentlessly to improve Aren’s fine motor skills, a crucial step in using the iPad keyboard. Progress was sometimes agonizingly slow, but eventually Aren became proficient at using picture icons and the keyboard to connect with therapists and his parents—skills that would change the course of his future.

As the years passed, Aren continued his therapy at the Play to Learn Center. In 2017, when he was seven years old, his parents made an incredible discovery: By using his iPad, Aren could compute arithmetic problems, and understand and read English, Armenian and French. He could finally express himself, answer questions, make requests and share his thoughts.

“Beneath Aren’s outer challenges and initial isolation from not being able to speak, his sweet, determined personality and analytical mind began to shine through,” explains Traci Martinez, DPT, Play to Learn Center manager. “With his iPad, Aren interacts with the world. For his parents, hearing the phrase ‘love you’ brought tears of joy.”

Now a third-grader in a Glendale public school, Aren is studying all the usual subjects and is using an iPad as his “voice.” He’s made friends and plays just like other kids.

“Aren faces challenges in his life, but his progress is a miracle in the making,” Martinez adds. “I am immensely proud of our staff, whose skills and devotion to their work provide hope for the better future of our children and their families.”

As for Aren, he wants to become, in his own words, “A math teacher for kids like me who can’t talk but think, because they deserve it, all kids do. I want to teach them the value of numbers so that they can go to the store and order what they want, and no one can stop them.”