December 21, 2011 - Christmas came early for Lakeville Elementary teachers Amy Devin and Lauren Pawlowski.
Lakeville student Natalia Ramirez Soto (left) checks out the new iPadís capabilities with teacher Lauren Pawlowski. Photo by Andrew Moser. (click for larger version)
Devin and Pawlowski, who teach special needs children, got a surprise Christmas present when they were presented with two brand new iPads, donated by Benjamin Duff, president of Cornerpieces, a charity organization located in Sault Ste. Marie, MI helping autistic children.
"It's like the best Christmas present ever," Devin exclaimed. "It couldn't have come at a better time. There is a Santa Claus!"
Duff, whose five-year-old son is autistic, has personally seen the impact the iPad can have on his son's learning ability.
"My little guy, he is pretty much nonverbal, but it is the one thing he will sit and do for more than 30 seconds," Duff explained.
Devin agreed. "I can't even imagine the impact this has on these kids," she said. "We can say things till we are blue in the face, but when we can present it in a visual manner, it goes right to the (part) of the brain that needs to operate. So it's what works."
"Word's don't. Visuals do, and this is such an immediate, at our fingertips that we can use constantly, that it's going to be amazing," Devin added.
As soon as the kids opened the packages, they were already figuring out how to take pictures, read stories and watch books come to life. "It's highly motivating, and we will be able to use it," Pawlowski added. "Not only iPads, but just in order to get communication out of them because it is so challenging for them to communicate. But when they have that reinforcer they really understand, they are much more adamant about getting their words out and letting us know what they need."
According to Duff, he contacted one of his friends, who currently sits in an administrative position at Oxford High School and is a board member of Cornerpieces, and together they set up the iPad donation.
This is the second time this year Duff has given away iPads. He recently gave away four to the speech therapy teachers in the Sault. Ste. Marie School District.
"I know with budget cuts and everything, schools need them, professionals need them and hopefully this will enhance their teaching abilities and the lives of children in Oxford," Duff said.
According to Duff, who has been working in nonprofit organizations for the past six years, he wanted to do something where he could bring the skills he learned to help children like his son out.
"I want to be able to help out as many children as we can," Duff explained. "Seeing the legacy of helping these kids now...and I think there are going to be so many greater advancements that is going to be brought to these tablets that they will be able to communicate and be a part of society."
Duff said the primary focus of Cornerpieces was to help children with autism or children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
"There are over 15,000 children diagnosed with autism in Michigan schools right now, and that is a large percentage of our future population," Duff said.
"We need to do something to be proactive to get these kids involved so they have great skills, because if you don't, it could be a real problem later down the road," he explained. "Like everything, the earlier you nip it in the bud, the better. We want to give every potential (opportunity) to these children."
He added his goal for 2012 was to create a Cornerpieces communications app, which would be available for the iPad, iPhone, Droids, Nooks and Kindles.
"We just want to get the word out about some of the problems facing autistic children here in the state of Michigan," Duff said.
In order to spread the word, Cornerpieces got approval to light up the Mackinaw Bridge in blue in April during Autism Awareness month. They are also working with the Michigan Autism Alliance, a group based in Detroit, to be able to possibly light up the Renaissance Center as well.
For more information on Cornerpieces, visit their website at www.cornerpieces.org.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.