Just three days before her father died of liver failure last May, Shylow Kirton was able to say goodbye.

It was the first and last time he would ever hear his daughter speak.


After remaining non-verbal for seven years, Shylow Kirton now has a vocabulary of nearly 300 words. (Supplied )

"One of his final wishes was to hear his daughter speak," said Shylow's mother Debbie Kirton.  

"A few days before he passed away we went to visit him and she said, 'Hi daddy' and she said, 'I love you, love you, I love you' and just gave him a big hug and he was just so happy and crying.

"He was just so grateful."

Just a few years ago, fulfilling her father's dying wish would have been impossible for Shylow.  For seven years the Edmonton girl, who is severely autistic, had never uttered a word.

"I had a hard time getting into her world," said Kirton. "The autism didn't allow her to come out and express herself in any way. Shylow was kind of inside a little box."

'She blossoms every day'

But Shylow's life took a dramatic turn. Once unable to speak, the nine-year-old now has a vocabulary of nearly 300 words.

Kirton says everything changed for Shylow when, in Grade 2,  she transferred to Virginia Park School and met educational assistant Tracy Hanson.

Hanson, who has worked with special needs kids for years, admits bringing Shylow out of her shell wasn't easy.

"She wasn't social in any way, shape or form. She didn't talk, so any sort of communication, you didn't know what she was thinking, what she wanted," said Hanson, who said Shylow was once fearful and easily aggravated.

"It didn't happen right away, but then when things started to happen it just went boom, and it happened really fast."

Through a combination of verbal exercises, art therapy and sign-language training, Shylow has learned to write, can now eat without assistance, loves to sing, dance and play with her classmates.

"The kids in the class adore her, and they all take care of her now. They get her to say words, they high-five, they hold her hand, they play games, " said Hanson. "She blossoms every day."

Grateful for Hanson's dedication to her daughter, Kirton nominated Hanson for an Edmonton Public School teachers award last year, which she won in December. Seeing Shylow "come out her box" has given her hope.

"To see her engaging and having so much fun, learning and being able to talk to me." Kirton said. "I'm just over the moon."