Club in the Upper Midwest Has Spent Nearly Ten Years Providing iPads to Kids with Autism

With schools switching to remote learning over the past year, the need for connected devices has been higher than ever. Kids without them may find themselves left behind because they’re missing the right technology. To one Midwestern group, the knowledge of this need is hardly new. They’ve been supplying iPads to kids with autism for nearly a decade.

The Wisconsin-Upper Michigan Kiwanis Autism Project began in 2012. To date, the initiative has donated more than 1,200 iPads to kids with autism in their region. They’ve recently seen the effort expand, too, with the Kiwanis Club of Stevens Point, another Wisconsin branch, providing their first tablet to a six-year-old girl with autism earlier this month. Ava has language disorders, and her mother says the iPad will help her keep up in school and communicate with her loved ones.

The project’s website explains the importance of these devices, saying, “Teachers are using iPads as a tool to reach out to children with ASD and the results are remarkable. Children with autism are showing tremendous improvement when interacting with programs that support academic concepts, comprehension, and direction following. Visually supported iPad apps help motivate these students’ ability to follow a schedule, complete multi-step directions, and transition between activities and places. Apps on the iPad are mutually beneficial for parents, siblings and other caregivers.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/WI-UM KIWANIS AUTISM PROJECT

The group originally had a goal of donating 1,000 iPads and $500,000. Though they’ve since reached that total, they’re not stopping. They’ve upped the goal to 1,500 iPads and $1,000,000.

With the Stevens Point Kiwanis joining in, they’ll hopefully reach that goal faster. Club secretary Mike Schmidt says their mission is always to help youth, and they know this initiative does just that.

He says, “Autism is obviously a very significant issue in the educational system across the country but if we can help here that’s one big step, or at least one small step toward a bigger problem.”

Former Wisconsin-Upper Michigan Kiwanis District Governor Lynn Messer initially started the project after seeing a 60 Minutes segment on getting iPads to children with autism. It resonated with him because of his family experience. His granddaughter Kelsey was diagnosed with autism when she was eight-years-old.

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/WI-UM KIWANIS AUTISM PROJECT

When they passed their initial goal in 2018, Messer said in a Facebook post, “The impact of this project goes beyond the lives of the 1,005 children to whom the iPads have been granted – because it has also impacted the lives of their siblings, their parents, and the employers and co-employees of the parents as well. Instead of one thousand lives, we can safely say that it is thousands of lives that the iPad project has affected.”

He added, “We have blown the top off the goal of 1,000 iPads to children in need and these children now have a voice with the use of the iPad.”

The club says the pandemic has presented challenges because fundraisers have had to be canceled, while the need for these devices has gone up. Despite that, many clubs are moving forward in whatever way they can and have even found new members as a result of this project.

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/WI-UM KIWANIS AUTISM PROJECT

To keep up to date on the project and see if they meet their goal, check out their website.

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