The following is a progress report submitted to the Flutie Foundation on behalf of a family that received a laptop through the Foundation's 2011 Laurie Flutie Computer Initiative*. The child's mother expressed to the Foundation that the computer donated to her adopted daughter has "changed my life."
Sharon is a single mother living on a very limited disability income. She has had uterine cancer. Yet despite her own challenges, this courageous, caring, and resourceful woman has successfully parented 13 foster children. Sharon adopted her youngest, who has Asperger's Syndrome, after Olivia's mother lost custody due to drug problems.
Sharon has worked hard to give Olivia the opportunity to study cello and to perform with the Children's Opera, as well as finding her a math tutor through a local University. Olivia struggles with math, with slow processing speed, and with executive function issues. She has been teased and bullied at her school, on the bus, and in her neighborhood. Overall, Sharon has not found her local school system very supportive or responsive.
Prior to receiving the computer, Sharon did not know how to use a computer and did not have email. The family was extremely isolated.
The computer has served as a means of strengthening family bonds and the self-esteem of both mother and daughter. One of Sharon's older daughters helped her set up and learn to use the computer. Olivia has also been teaching her mother computer skills.
Olivia is "thrilled" with her new laptop. She takes it to school, and uses it to work on her school assignments. She also uses it to have fun-both by herself and with her mother. Socially isolated, spending a lot of her time at home, Olivia considers the computer her friend. She likes watching YouTube videos and showing Sharon her favorites. She learns jokes to tell her mother. She finds riddles online, and asks Sharon to guess the answers. Mother and daughter spend a lot of time sitting together in front of the computer, learning and playing together.
When Olivia was first diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, Sharon felt very sad. She attended AANE's (the Asperger's Association of New England) 2010 fall conference, but left part way through, overwhelmed by the sadness and fear she felt for Olivia. The computer supports Sharon's journey toward understanding and accepting Olivia's Asperger's diagnosis. Sharon has been reading about Asperger Syndrome online, and participating in AANE's online support group (a Google group list-serv) for parents of teens. AANE staff can now quickly send her the information and resources she needs in order to understand and help her daughter.
Olivia has also had trouble understanding and accepting her diagnosis. One day, she saw that Sharon had left an article about "How to talk to your teen about Asperger Syndrome" open on the screen of the laptop. She asked her mother why she was reading that article. This led to a very valuable discussion between them on an important topic they had not previously been able to discuss: what AS is, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. Although Olivia still wishes to keep her diagnosis very private, this discussion marked a very important step toward self-awareness for her.
Receiving the computer sparked a real turning point in the life of this vulnerable family. Sharon is enormously grateful. She considers the computer's arrival "a blessed event" and says, "It has helped us both so much!" This mother and daughter, who formerly felt very sad and quite alone in an uncaring world, now know that others do care about them. They feel stronger and more hopeful. This computer has been an amazing gift that, in a few short months, has brightened their lives.
*Names have been changed at the request of the family.