Dylan Hargreaves, four, is autistic and suffers severe learning difficulties. Until recently, he never uttered a single word. But several few months ago, his parents added a three-year-old blue-and-gold macaw to the family. They named him Barney, and suddenly, Dylan began to speak, repeating words that the parrot said.
After being tutored by Barney the parrot, Dylan says "Night, night", "Dad", "Mum", "Ta", "Hello" and "Bye".
"Barney has changed our lives. Before he arrived, Dylan would try to speak, but the sound came out as a noise," said Dylan's mother, Michelle.
"The we got Barney and, a few months later, Dylan began to talk. It was only the odd word, but I could clearly understand what he said.
"Every time I gave the bird something to say, Dylan started trying to say the same thing. I think it's because the bird says things slower than me, which helps Dylan understand.
Michelle believes that her son will soon be saying "Barney", because he loves his companion so much.
I wonder if this is a classic case of learning as espoused by Irene Pepperberg, who works with the African grey parrot, Alex? Her hypothesis is that learning is enhanced when there are two competitors who are competing to learn a word. A parrot can certainly be a suitable competitor for a child, especially an autistic one.
Problem here is that unless the macaw can use the words he says in any context, then the child is only learning mimickry. Thats something, though. However, unless he already knew the correct label for 'mama' and 'barney,' learning to pronouce them correctly may not improve his communication skills.
The model-rival technique that Dr. Pepperberg uses was first developed by German researcher Dietmar Todt who began using it in parrots. She began to use it after that, and modified it slightly. But now the technique is widely used to help developmentally-disabled children (however the model/rival are usually not birds!).
Any chance of fixing the story cite link? This one takes a person to google mail.
Problem here is that unless the macaw can use the words he says in any context, then the child is only learning mimickry.
Not really; Barney might be mimicking, but even he could learn to use his words in roughly appropriate contexts. Dylan, however, is fully human -- he's just got some buggy wetware.
The first hurdle in working with autistics is getting them to engage with other people, and the bird's certainly helped get him started. Frankly, this isn't nearly as "miraculous" as the article tries to cast it, but it is sweet.
Am I the only one wincing at the way the article keeps switching between "parrot" and "macaw"?