Apple helps break barriers of autism

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Woodlawn Golf Course in Adrian was the site of a golf tournament organized by Melissa and David Archer to raise money to buy iPads for children with autism. The $4,500 raised for Jasmynn’s iPads Cost Money will purchase 11 tablets. Pictured on the course (l to r) are Jasmynn Archer, Landry Schmitz, Phinex Marvin-Shirley, and David Archer. Photo submitted.mary

When David and Melissa Archer took their four-year-old daughter, Jasmynn to get her hearing checked, they were shocked when the doctor matter-of-factly said her hearing was fine; Jasmynn was autistic. Although Jasmynn had exhibited behaviors typical for autistic children including not speaking, the Archers had just adapted to them and considered them normal. Melissa thought Jasmynn didn’t speak because she had her mother and four grown sisters speaking for her.
“I wasn’t prepared for that at all,” Melissa said.

The shocks for the Archer family continued after a consulting visit with a psychiatrist. The doctor gave Jasmynn an IQ test, and then told Melissa and David that Jasmynn’s score meant she would always be low functioning. Melissa did not believe the test was an accurate assessment of Jasmynn’s capabilities because her daughter was unfamiliar with the testing activities.

“They asked her to do things she had never done,” said Melissa. “I had never shown her how to open a bottle cap. I didn’t teach my other kids, why would I teach her that?”

Unlike the doctor’s explanation of Jasmynn’s autism, the Autism Society of America has a different belief stated on their website autism-society.org/about-autism, “Autism is treatable. Children do not ‘outgrow’ autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.”

Melissa decided not to pay attention to the doctor’s advice. “Thank goodness, I was educated,” she said. “I swallowed everything I could find to help this little girl be the best she could be, and not sell her short.”

In the seven years since Jasmynn’s diagnosis, Melissa and David have worked to challenge Jasmynn’s capabilities in ways that will benefit her for a lifetime. The 11-year-old still has limited verbal communication, but she continues to grow and expand her vocabulary.

The Archers balance Jasmynn’s exposure to new educational and environmental experiences with the understanding of Jasmynn’s limitations. The scope of Jasmynn’s abilities, like many other autistic children, is unknown. Autism is still a mystery to the medical and therapy community. Although autistic children exhibit some similar attributes, the issues vary radically from child to child. The key component is difficulty or inability to communicate with others.

A big breakthrough in Jasmynn’s development happened when Melissa and David purchased an iPod Touch for the Proloquo2Go application. The application uses pictures and words spoken individually or in a sentence format, and is designed to aid verbal communication who have difficulty speaking or who cannot speak.

“It’s a phenomenal app,” said Melissa. “It’s one of the best apps out there for people who can’t talk.”

This was a cost effective way to increase Jasmynn’s communication compared with the $7,000 Dynavox device previously available for those with speech communication issues.

“We worked with the iPod Touch for a while and she loved it,” Melissa said. When the iPad was released in 2010, the family didn’t hesitate to switch to the larger screen. The iPad introduced Jasmynn to writing with her finger, allowing her to work around the spatial issues that made writing difficult.

The school system had given up on teaching Jasmynn to write, but Melissa was inspired by Jasmynn’s success on the iPad. Last summer she worked with Jasmynn to master the art of writing with a pencil.

Melissa and Jasmynn both love the flexibility of the apps. “You can adapt them and make them personalized,” she said.

“Ideally the device is for her to communicate, if we can get her to compose her thoughts.” Melissa said. “The things she truly needs to say she can say.”

Eventually, the Archers hope their daughter will be able to compose more complex thoughts and ideas using the iPad. After having such great success with the device, they wanted to provide the opportunity for other autistic children to experience the communication possibilities found with the iPad.

They started the nonprofit organization “Jasmynn’s iPads Cost Money” to help with fundraising, and the first activity was a golf outing held in August at the Woodlawn Golf Course in Adrian. Originally hoping to raise enough money to purchase three or four iPads, the golf outing earned the organization enough to buy 11 iPads, six new and five refurbished, with the promise of a donation for two more iPads when the organization’s nonprofit status becomes official with the Internal Revenue Service.

Melissa’s goal is to focus on families with multiple autistic children. The Archers recently gifted a local family with an iPad. After Jasmynn showed the family’s non-verbal 16-year-old son how to use one of the applications, he began spelling words on the iPad, shocking his mother with his extensive spelling vocabulary, previously unknown to the family.

“We are still in the process of making an application form,” said Melissa of the distribution process of the iPads. “They are going to be distributed between Lenawee County and Washtenaw County.”

Families will need to provide documentation that children are on the spectrum, through a medical diagnosis or school IEP. Melissa expects the process to begin in late October. Interested families can find information on their Facebook page, Jasmynn’s iPads Cost Money.

Getting technology to families with autistic children was the best way for the Archers to help. There is not much available in Lenawee County for therapy or support, beyond the family-based support group Autism HOPE of Lenawee, and the Archers wanted to find a way to reach out to other families experiencing the challenges of working with autistic children.

Donations are always accepted to help the Archers continue to expose more autistic children to the iPad experience. Checks should be made to Jasmynn’s iPads Cost Money, P.O. Box 1592, Adrian, MI 49221, and more information can be found on their Facebook page.




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