10/23/2013 12:10:00 PM Technology touching young lives
Jameson Wolske and Joseph Flores, both 3, connect with ipads.
Valerie Leair Chronotype staff
Opening doors of communication for children with autism is a goal of the Rice Lake Kiwanis Club. A focus on helping children with autism and raising awareness has been the featured project of most Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Kiwanis clubs this past year. By supplying iPads and software to autistic children, the nonprofit community service groups are seeing amazing results from their work. Fundraising efforts began in Rice Lake on Sept. 28 with a Family Fun Fest held at Rice Lake High School. The Rice Lake club is working toward not only raising awareness of the disorder, but also to supply iPads to at least 15 students in the Barron County area.
Wisconsin needs The Kiwanis governor for Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, Lynn Messer recently spoke to the Rice Lake Kiwanis to share his story. "This is a very emotional project for me," said Messer. His 16-year old granddaughter, Kelsey, was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 8. "She was diagnosed incorrectly until justbefore age 8, which wasvery critical for her," said Messer. "At the time, we were making autism aware to the public here in the district," said Messer. "In other states that we traveled, the subject of autism was constantly in the news except here in Wisconsin. "Then I happened to see the CBS "60 Minutes" one Sunday which had the segment call Apps for Autism," he said. "This showed what an impact iPads had on children with autism. From that time on, I decided that this is what our project was going to focus on and that is providing iPads for children with autism of families in need." Autism spectrum disorder and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify around 1 in 88 American children are on the autism spectrum-a tenfold increase in prevalence in 40 years. And there are many different degrees, including aspergers which is a highly functioning form of autism. Research, however, shows this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. The most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge when the child is between 2 and 3 years of age. "Early detection is critical," said Messer. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States per year.
Successful tool Messer has seen firsthand how iPads have helped in the lives of autistic youth. He said that a 4 1/2-year old boy in Wisconsin diagnosed with autism had a vocabulary of 20 words. "Within 2 weeks of receiving his iPad, his vocabulary was more than 200 words," said Messer. He said he also knows a boy with autism in his senior year at school who was doing B and C level work. "After receiving an iPad, he is now doing honor roll level work and becoming eligible for scholarships," said Messer. "And he is now enrolled in college." The need in Rice Lake became apparent when Kiwanis member Susan Strouf met with Lynn Messer about the Kiwanis Autism Project. Strouf is the director of pupil services at the Rice Lake Area School District. She said the district uses iPads in a variety of ways for students between the ages of 3-21 within the school district. They are used as visual tools for students to help process directions given by the teacher and can take pictures and videos to capture spontaneous learning opportunities. They are also used for communication purposes between students in group settings or individually. Educationally, iPad applications are used in all areas of learning from reading to mathematics. Other students also use iPads to help teach other students within their classroom, said Strouf. "Overall the use of the iPads has been a great addition to help teach all learners in the RLASD," she said. "The iPads act as a voice," said Messer. "They also help express thoughts and feelings through different language apps. "Communication is so important through all aspects of life," he said. "About 30% of children with autism can't speak." Some of the software has applications for learning, practicing eye contact, revealing feelings of happy, sad or others. They have been shown to enhance attention span and draw the students in, said Messer. Some persons with autism excel in visual skills, music, math and art. The iPads have been shown to sometimes bring out the talents and interests of many autistic children. "The iPads show that there's a lot more going on upstairs than you would think," said Messer. Strouf began accepting applications for the project and received 15 applications. Jake Ritchie, president of Rice Lake Kiwanis Club, said, "I was surprised by the need in our community and thought the project fit well with the goals of our club to serve children." Kiwanis members feel that there may be more students in the area that aren't award of the iPad program such as homeschooled children. These children could also benefit from iPad usage. Kiwanis member and executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Barron County,Deanna Aubart, said that, unfortunately, the use of iPad learning often ends at school. "And there are kids who aren't in the education system yet who could benefit and those who are financial need," said Ritchie. When the Kiwanis began raising money for the iPads, costs per unit were $700. "Costs have come down," said Messer. "But we are in need of help such as corporate sponsorships to help with places that clubs are active in this project or there aren't clubs." The devices cost about $500 a piece. Depending on the child's needs, iPad minis or iPad 2 are supplied with appropriate software. "We're working very hard to get the costs lowered," said Steve Shervey, Kiwanis member.
Raising funds The Rice Lake Kiwanis decided to host a Family Fun Fest as a means of generating funds for the project and raising awareness for the Kiwanis Autism Project. The idea was to provide opportunities to all children in the community and expose them to a variety of activities including golf, football, baseball, softball, hockey, basketball, Frisbee toss, scavenger hunt, fitness and beanbags. "Warrior coaches, students and athletes turned out to facilitate activities for the younger children," said Aubart. "The children received a raffle entry for every activity that they completed. Approximately 45 door prizes were distributed to the 70 children that participated in the Family Fun Fest. Overall the family day was well-received, although the weather shortened the event." The event was free, and local businesses and sponsors provided donations of food, door prizes and cash sponsorships. Funds were also raised through freewill donations and from the concessions stand. Sponsors of the event included Rice Lake Weighing Systems, Advocates for Academic Freedom, Ag Star Financial, Deutsch's Gymnastic's, DCS Netlink, and MarketPlace Foods. Other sponsors included BS on Main, The Chronotype, Culver's, Don Johnson Motors, Gordy's County Market, Northwoods Promotions, Paul's Sheet Metal, Ricci Tire, Northern Business Products, Northernstar Theatre, and WAQE Radio. "The family event received roughly about $3,400. With a generous commitment from the Rice Lake Golden K, the total funds raised are just under $6,000," said Aubart. "Our original goal was to raise $7,500 and we are working with businesses and Apple to bring costs down. "The weather provided a challenging atmosphere," said Shervey. "This was truly a community event, and the local business and individuals made it possible to reach our goal of purchasing Ipads." "Although we are very close to our goal, we will continue to have children with autism in our schools and increased funding will allow us to purchase iPads for future applicants," Aubart said. "As the need continues to increase in our community, the Kiwanis Club may look to incorporate this project into their Club annually," she said. "When we started this program, we had dreams," said Messer. "This is the largest project that Wisconsin and Upper Michigan have undertaken." Messer's goal is to raise more than $500,000 to furnish iPads for all Wisconsin children who are diagnosed with autism. Ritchie said that the financial need to purchase more iPads is still there. For more information about the project or to donate, call Ritchie at 715-651-7188.
Posted: Saturday, November 2, 2013
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ASD isn actually diagnosed on one out of every 50 children today.