Ask 12-year-old Andrew Olson what his favorite subject is in school, and he’ll glance up from his new iPad just long enough to answer with a resounding, “Lunch!” His mom, Jackie Olson, laughs and reminds him that he does enjoy science and reading, too.
As he goes back to solving math problems with the touch of a button, she explains that technology has helped Andrew in many areas of school. “He actually really likes going to school,” she says. “He’s an expert with computers. He’s always changing our screensavers and looking at education websites or YouTube videos.”
Andrew, who’s in sixth grade, has Joubert syndrome, a genetic disorder with outcomes similar to cerebral palsy. He has multiple developmental delays, most of them physical. After he was diagnosed with his disability at birth, Jackie and her husband, Geoffrey, made the decision to call PACER Center for help.
Since then, the family has stayed in close contact with PACER and used many of its services. As Andrew grew older, it became clear that technology, such as his iPad, would make a significant difference in his life. He’s benefitted greatly in the past from consultations with PACER’s Simon Technology Center (STC) staff and the STC Lending Library, which allows families to check out adaptive technology and equipment at no cost, much like a public library. “It’s like a Best Buy for kids with special needs,” Jackie says of the Lending Library. “It’s been amazing. The staff really works with you to help you find what you need. Technology has been a real strength for Andrew.”
PACER has also helped Jackie learn how to become an effective parent advocate. During Andrew’s elementary school years, Jackie attended several workshops on advocating for her child and received individual help from PACER advocates concerning appropriate services for her son. When Jackie requested additional services from the school district, she also sought advice from PACER advocate Virginia Richardson.
“It’s comforting to know that she and other advocates are there if we ever need help,” Jackie says. With Jackie acting as a strong advocate, elementary school went well for Andrew and their family. When Andrew started middle school, though, it became a little tougher to collaborate with Andrew’s four regular education teachers, three special education teachers, four paraprofessionals and three specialists. One of the family’s biggest challenges is convincing others that Andrew’s cognitive skills are much stronger than his physical abilities, Jackie says.
But Andrew’s family and those close to him know better. He takes mainstream social studies and science classes, and with new technology, such as applications on his iPad, he’s also improving his math and reading skills. And while he does have physical limitations, Andrew stays very active through swimming, adaptive skiing and baseball, where he usually plays second or third base.