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Hudson -- Cole Jeffries can say a lot with his radiant smile, but the 11-year-old fifth-grader at East Woods Elementary School, who is non-verbal, has a voice to go with it thanks to modern technology.
The first thing anyone notices about Cole is his smile. It's big, positive and invites friendship.
"His infectious smile can make the most unhappy person smile," said his mother, Sharon. "He has such an incredible way of touching people's lives. It really is amazing."
Cole has used a variety of assistive technology devices through the years to help him communicate. The latest hand-held device uses pictures and word roots to help him create sentences that are spoken by the device. His fingers move quickly across the screen, and then he smiles as a voice speaks the words he's written.
"He is at ease with technology, and so familiar with it, that he doesn't get frustrated with it," Sharon said.
Sharon, his father, Mark, and sister, Maddy, 16, moved to Hudson before Cole was born. They didn't realize the importance the public school system would have on Cole's life. He was born with a condition that impacts speech and fine motor skills, Sharon said.
"His condition affects his ability to verbalize," Sharon said. "His ability to express language is very limited."
Although he had been going to therapy since he was diagnosed, the real work began when he turned 3 and was enrolled in the Hudson Public School district's special needs program.
"He couldn't even walk up the steps of the bus," Mark recalled.
"You think of these 'special' kids and you don't always know what their future looks like," Sharon said. "You worry like all parents, but we have to put our faith in God and know he has a special purpose for Cole."
Now Cole runs, swims, and plays basketball and soccer. He's customized his assistive technology device with information about his favorite local sports teams and the National Association for Stock Car Racing. He met Richard Petty when he visited the Charlotte Coves Motor Speedway with his family.
Cole's life is similar to NASCAR, Sharon said.
"It doesn't always matter whether you finish first, second or even third," she said. "Sometimes it is just as important that you just finish the race."
It's important Cole is the best he can be and his teachers, friends and family help support him along his journey or race, Sharon said.
Mark added a basketball hoop to the back yard and it has helped Cole developed his muscle strength and his coordination.
"It's great therapy," Mark said. "Cole went from shooting underhand to dribbling and shooting overhand. He scores 90 percent of the time."
The Jeffries family emphasizes early intervention for a child diagnosed with special needs and appreciate his teacher, Josanne Hyclak, and the programs the school system has provided to help Cole reach his full potential.
Each student identified with special needs is on a individual education plan, according to Sheryl Sheatzley, communications manager for Hudson City School District. The parents and a team from the school create an IEP contract for what education programs the student needs.
Sometimes an IEP is as simple as a speech class with the student completely integrated with peers while others students require a more complex IEP and may be integrated in classes like art, music or physical education and limited classroom time with peers.
"The services and programs vary quite a bit," Sheatzley said. "What a student receives is based on students particular needs."
Special education has evolved through the years from students being transported to Weaver School and Workshop in Tallmadge to each school district creating plans to integrate students with their peers.
Now schools have developed an IEP for each student to address individual needs, Sheatzley said. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act established the guidelines for special need students.