theParklander

iPads for Autistic Children
By Cheryl Pangborn / March 2012

I was recently introduced to a wonderful charitable organization called Itaalk early in 2011. I found out about it through a link posted on Facebook that claimed Itaalk was attempting to help the families of children with autism get iPads and other IOS devices. You may have seen a recent report on ABC-TV's "20-20" about how these special children are being helped with their communication, socialization and learning through the use of iPads.

Though I have a 12-year-old son with autism, I was skeptical about applying for help. Many of my experiences trying to access things to help my son are met with a plethora of red tape that unfortunately leads to me just wasting time, nothing more. Knowing how much Mason would benefit from an iPad pushed me to apply.

Mason has always been fascinated with technology; he is very savvy with it. I am reluctant to allow him to use my laptop because he is just too curious and will open up windows, delete information, and, if he gets bored, pull the keyboard apart. An iPad, however, is much simpler with fewer potential pitfalls.
It didn't take me long to find out that Brooke Olson, founder and president of Itaalk, really did want to get these devices out to families. Olson was inspired by her own son's improvement back in 2009 when, within four months of using an IOS device, his language skills blossomed. This amazed family, friends and therapists, prompting Olson to have a passion to give other children the opportunity for this type of success.

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects socialization and communication skills. It is usually diagnosed within the first three years of a child's life. Knowing that these devices could be used by therapists, educators and parents to help these challenged children gave Olson the inspiration for Itaalk. In 2010, it awarded the very first iPad to a child with autism. This past year, it has been able to donate nearly 100 iPads and IOS devices through donations, grants from businesses and a matchmaker program.

Itaalk is not only committed to getting the devices into the autism community, but also to train and inform users on what can be done with them and how they can help. There are thousands of apps that can be accessed on an iPad that can teach and improve skills for a struggling child. They include everything from simple math and color recognition to a visual schedule that can help him or her maneuver through the day with less drama.

Itaalk is hosting training seminars to help parents and educators get the maximum use from the device. Its web site is also a great source of information that lists the top apps available, new apps and other fresh ideas that can help iPad users. Become an Itaalk Facebook friend and find out when apps are being offered for free, and access helpful tips about using the iPad with your child.

The thrust this year is on a match program. "We want the parent to feel involved, so we are focusing on having the parent or family raise some of the money toward the device," Olson says. "This is not a set dollar amount. Perhaps a family can only come up with $35. That is okay. We will try to find a donor to make up the difference."

Itaalk is a 501c3 organization accepting financial donations and donations of used IOS devices. It is very excited about going into 2012 with a greater impact on education. It created a video series that will help introduce users to the iPad and get them up to speed on how they can maximize their effectiveness in children's lives.

After my work with Brooke and her team, my son Mason was awarded an iPad last October. We are so excited about putting this device into Mason's hands and look forward to the impact it will have on him in all the challenges he faces, from verbalization to changes in routine.

If you are interested in applying for an iPad through Itaalk or know a family who could benefit, go to the web site www.itaalk.org. To make a donation, whether financial or a used device, go to the web site or contact Olson directly at Brooke@Itaalk.org.




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