WELCOME - When Paige Breneman began a college project to help her younger sister's autism classroom get more iPads, she hoped to find just one more.
But shortly after Breneman was featured in a Sentinel article, about half a dozen iPads were donated, with the story getting regional attention.
"It became chaotic," admits Breneman, who attends Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. "I had the Mankato TV station contact me, and four people had already come forward wanting to donate. One person donated four iPads; two went to the Fairmont special education and two came to the Welcome classroom. Then the Martin County West FFA donated an iPad and a woman from Sherburn donated one. There was also money donated for the apps."
Several studies have shown how iPad tablets help autistic children learn and communicate. Until the recent donations, there was just one iPad for the Welcome classroom of 10 children.
Originally, the iPad tablet was to be used as a communication device in the Welcome Autism Classroom. But there are numerous applications, or "apps," that can aid students in learning.
"The kids love the iPad," Welcome Autism Classroom teacher Kristin Jaskulke told the Sentinel last month. "We use it in a group; we use it individually, and it's also used for reward time and we see some better on track with their behavioral management."
The autism spectrum diagnosis is now in 1 in every 88 children, with a 5-to-1 diagnosis of boys to girls.
Currently, there are 80 children from five area school districts (Fairmont, Martin County West, Truman, Granada-Huntley-East Chain and Blue Earth) who have been diagnosed with some form of autism. A majority are able to function and attend school in their own district. But those with the most trouble performing are in the Welcome Autistic Classroom.
"Originally, I was hoping to get one more iPad for the class," Breneman said. "Now, with five, there's one for every two children in the class."
While Breneman's experience was overwhelming - "Especially with finals going on at the same time," she added - it was also heart-warming.
"I feel blessed that the community came out and showed support for the project," Breneman said. "I got a lot of good reviews. And I got a good grade ... I'm still finishing up all my thank-you notes. I'm very thankful for everyone who helped."