Tammy Eisenreich and Brooke Olsen met each other because they each had four-year-old sons at the same preschool for autistic children. Brooke’s son was nonverbal and learned to communicate through an iPad, while Tammy’s son was verbal and used interactive technology for learning to read, daily living skills and help with transitions. They had seen such dramatic improvements that they wanted other autistic children to have access, and so, in 2011, they founded the iTaalk Autism Foundation.
iTaalk (Interactive Technology Assisting Autistic Little Kids) started out providing tablets to families around the country. The families receiving the device had barriers to using them effectively.
“We learned very quickly that if the family can’t afford an iPad, you’re probably not going to be able to afford the educational apps that are going to make it a true communication device or educational tool.”
Besides the cost of apps, families experienced difficulties in knowing how to use the technology for specific needs of their child. The organization realized that they would need to provide apps and education along with the device.
Since 2011, iTaalk has educated over 3,000 families, service providers, and caretakers on the beneficial uses of interactive technology for children with autism and other disabilities.
Benefits from Interactive Technology
- Assisted communication
- Improvements in math and reading
- Social and emotional control
- Individualized options: the child chooses pictures and rewards
- Consistency: Tammy explains, “An app is great because I would get kind of frustrated after the 10th time of repeating the same thing over and over. Even our nonverbal kids, they hear the frustration in your tone. The app doesn’t do that to them.”
iTaalk is the giving program for the two major companies providing communication assistance apps nationwide. iTaalk volunteers verify the need for the app and send them a code to obtain the app at no cost.
In addition, iTaalk has partnered with other nonprofits to deliver the technology and education in areas that don’t have easy access to services. They went to Aspen, CO to provide 70 devices and training for 150 people. The organization has provided similar programs in Florida, Boston, and Charleston.
Tammy emphasizes that “we want to help locally. We’ll help in Aspen and other places when funding comes in to do so, but this [Toledo] is our home.”
Two giving cycles for devices are held in April and October, along with a full day training on iPad set-up and on the built-in accessibility features. iTaalk also has a program that provides tech carts with many assisted technology devices that can be loaned out to organizations and schools.
The foundation is funded through grants, donations, and an annual fundraiser. The Fox Family Ride for Autism, a motorcycle ride, is held in Rockford, Ohio in September.
The organization is completely volunteer-based; all funds go directly to purchasing devices and apps. The foundation is run by a six-person board that includes a speech pathologist and assisted technology professional.
How to Qualify for Assistance
Families only need an autism diagnosis to receive the device. Because each child’s need for technological support is unique to them, getting an app requires a letter from a professional such as a speech pathologist.
Only one tablet is given per person. When children need additional, updated devices, iTaalk points them to other resources. Some have been able to get a device and related technology covered by medical insurance. Go to itaalk.org for applications for technology, to donate, or to access additional resources.