Device one of 50 given to special-needs children nationwide
By Kaitlin Mayhew -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- When Noelle Mikels was born, she weighed just a little over 1 pound.
Noelle was born 16 weeks premature, and her mother, Stacie Mikels, said doctors weren't sure whether she would live, or whether she would ever walk or talk.
Against the odds, Noelle, now 3 1⁄2, is walking, but she has trouble communicating and has been diagnosed with apraxia, a speech disorder.
Noelle received an iPad 2 for free late last week as a part of an initiative called iPads in 50 States, which is a part of Apps for Children with Special Needs. The program recently chose one special-needs child in each of the 50 states to receive an iPad along with apps that will help with speech education.
Noelle, who lives in Warren County, was Virginia's recipient.
Her mother said she couldn't believe it when she saw the winners' names on the organization's Facebook page.
"Oh my goodness, I think my comment on the page was that my jaw just dropped," Mikels said. "We are really excited. Never in a million years did I imagine that we would get it."
Mikels said the whole family's world was turned upside down when Noelle was born at Fairfax Hospital. Since she was unable to leave the hospital for almost a year, Mikels, her husband, and their son Andon, who is now 5, lived in the Ronald McDonald House for about five months and then with her parents for a time so they could be close to the hospital.
"At the beginning I was hesitant to even name her because I wasn't sure if she would make it," Mikels said. "She really is an amazing kid."
Noelle's comprehension levels are normal for her age. She communicates with bits of sign language, pointing her finger and she can say a few words such as nicknames for her mother and brother.
"Other than that pretty much her dad and I are the only ones who can understand her," Mikels said. "She's so smart. She knows exactly what you are saying to her. She understands everything, but she can't reciprocate it back or tell us what she wants."
Noelle is currently attending Bright Beginnings in Warren County, which is a school for children with special needs.
She also attends private speech therapy classes at Fairfax Hospital.
A few of the apps that will be available for Noelle's iPad can do such things as show pictures to help "minimize her frustration" with communicating as well as record her voice and play it back to her so she can compare what she said to how a word sounds.
"I've heard wonderful things [about using iPads for speech therapy]," Mikels said.
She said Noelle used to have an iPod Touch that helped her learn her shapes and colors, but it broke.
Mikels said that was the example she used to explain to Noelle what she was actually getting.
"I told her she was going to get a new iPod Touch, but way bigger and she just lit up she was so excited," she said.
Mikels said she filled out an application for Noelle to be on the "iPads in 50 States" right after she heard about the program from a friend, which was around April. She said they were definitely one of the first 50 applicants on the list.
But Mikels said winning the iPad is not the most important thing their family is taking away from the experience. The Facebook group for "iPads in 50 States" brought together parents of special-needs children all over the country who she said have become a became a great community and family.
"I was completely overjoyed [to have won], but then I felt a little guilt because I have these Virginia friends [with special-needs children] who were just as deserving as I was," she said.
The founder of the iPad program, Gary James, is taking a tour of the 50 states to deliver each iPad personally. Mikels and Noelle were his fifth stop last Thursday.
Now, the first thing Noelle asks for when she wakes up is her new iPad. "Even before saying, 'Hi Mommy,'" Mikels said.
She said that right now they have mostly games downloaded, but once all of the iPads are delivered they will receive codes for the speech-aid apps. But, a lot of the games have practical applications as well.
Noelle particularly enjoys "Word Wall" and "Elmo's ABC's," which help teach the alphabet but also work on fine motor skills.
"Her fine motor skills have gotten so much better just in this weekend that we've had it," said Mikels. "She can leaf through [the iPad] so well, she's better at it than me."