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Family and friends join for Connor

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Voice for Connor

By Julie Graham

When Pam Taylor lost her voice, she was finally able to empathize with her best friend’s autistic son.

Connor Anderson, 9, of Kershaw has never spoken a word. His fine motor skills are not good enough to communicate with sign language.

He cannot hold a pencil to write. His caregivers are left to guessing his needs.

But family and friends are trying to change that. Ever since her vocal cords healed, Taylor has been raising money alongside Samantha Chilcoat, Connor’s mother, to buy a machine that will speak for him.

The goal is to raise $10,000.

“For two weeks, I had to walk around with a notepad and pen. I just about lost my mind,” said Taylor, 34, of Lancaster. “Could you imagine being nine, having feelings and emotions and basic needs and you can’t tell them?”

Doctors and therapists recommend a speech-generating machine, called a DynaVox that allows communication by touching a photo on the screen.

The price is $7,800, not including technical support, an extended warranty or training for Connor and family members.

The device looks like a tablet computer.

Taylor set up a Facebook page, “A Voice for Connor,” and set up a benefit concert on Dec. 2 at the Long Branch in Rock Hill that raised $3,400 that day.

Six bands played during the 10-hour event. Afterwards, the Hendrick family found out about the fund-raiser through employees and donated an additional $2,000 to Connor.

Another $1,200 came in through a motorcycle poker run with five stops through three counties.

A community yard sale in Elgin brought in $800 in October.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Chilcoat. “I’ve cried many times. For people to come out in this economy and spend their hard-earned money to help my little man, it’s humbling.”

The Chilcoats’ health insurance company does not cover the cost of the machine; they say it isn’t a necessity.

“I told them that they don’t understand,” Chilcoat said. “You tell how it is for your child to never tell you ‘I love you,’ or ‘My tummy hurts.’”

She fears her son will be seriously ill and not be able to tell her what is wrong, or lost and not capable of returning home safely.

“You have to face reality when you have a child who can’t speak and can’t even hold a pencil,” Chilcoat said. “How do you expect him to get home?”

From his lack of communication, Connor gets frustrated and has outbursts.

He recently put his head through the television.

“He lives in total frustration,” said Chilcoat, who also has two younger sons, Cohen, 7, and Reece, 5.

Taylor said she will not stop until Connor, a fourth grader at North Elementary School, has a DynaVox. “A Voice for Connor” has achieved 501c nonprofit status, and will try to help other families in the future.

Taylor will continue to sing to give as many children as possible a voice.

“My promise was to Connor. I will do what I can for anyone else,” she said. “We’ll go as far as people will take us.”