Autism Awareness Month: Meritus Total Rehab Care Pediatrics

At 13-years-old, Dylan Bane is what his mother describes as “all boy.” He is very active, loves playing on his iPad, enjoys drawing and art. He lives in Smithsburg and has a twin brother.

Dylan also has autism.

“When he was around two, he got very quiet,” said Laura Pett, Dylan’s mother. “At first, I thought it was his hearing, but he passed every hearing test. He would go play by himself, and it was like he was in his own little world.”

Dylan was diagnosed with autism at age four. Shortly after, Dylan and his family met Bethany Shoaf, who worked for Washington County Public Schools at the time. She helped Dylan with speech therapy.

Fast forward to Dylan’s 12-year-old checkup with his pediatrician. It was during this visit that Pett asked about enhancing Dylan’s communication.

“I really wanted him to get more speech,” Pett said.

Pett was directed to the caring professionals at Meritus Total Rehab Care Pediatrics for an assessment. They were met with a familiar and friendly face.

Shoaf, now a speech language pathologist at Meritus Total Rehab Care Pediatrics, began working with Dylan to get a speech-generating device to help enhance his communication abilities.

“Dylan was the first pediatric patient who we assessed for this high-tech communication system,” Shoaf said.

The “device,” as Shoaf calls it, allows patients to communicate wants, needs and preferences by making selections by direct touch, or other methods such as use of a switch or eye tracking. It has the look and feel of an iPad – something Dylan is very familiar with and enjoys using.

In early 2022, Dylan received the Augmentative and Alternative Communication device. Pett said the family is working to use it, but because it’s a piece of technology that somewhat resembles an iPad, it’s very interesting to Dylan.

“He will often grab the device without prompting and start using it on his own,” she said.

This technology has changed the way Dylan communicates. Shoaf explained that a lot of Dylan’s language prior to this therapy was repetitive words or phrases out of context. That has now changed, with his language being more purposeful, and it’s enabled his personality to shine through.

“For Dylan, using this device both helps him to speak and can speak for him. It enhances his speech and has enabled him to become a better communicator all around,” Shoaf said.

Pett has seen her son go from using single words or repetitive phrases and sentences, to using language in a more complete context.

“Our family life is becoming much easier, and Dylan is happier all around,” Pett said.

The tool is something that has helped not just children, but adults too. According to Shoaf, she has seen a significant improvement with engagement and attention in adult patients.

“It’s also really empowering for a parent to hear that their child is saying words they have never heard them say before,” Shoaf said.

Dylan’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication device is designed by PRC-Saltillo, and is used for patients with varying diagnoses including autism and cerebral palsy. Meritus Total Rehab Care also works with other manufacturers, to select an appropriate fit based on the patient’s individual needs.

Shoaf encourages any parents who think such therapy could be beneficial to their child, to consult with their pediatrician.

For more information on Meritus Total Rehab Care Pediactrics, visit