Kids are attached to their iPads these days. More and more I see parents use iPads as a way to calm and entertain their children. Kids can use an iPad to play games and watch movies, and it seems that they’re becoming increasingly reliant on the device for all forms of entertainment. Katie Reinertson uses an iPad for much more than watching the latest Netflix series or playing Best Fiends. Katie relies on her iPad to speak.
When Katie was around a year old her parents took her to the doctor for a high fever. The doctor assured her parents that Katie was fine and that the temperature would break and be nothing to worry about. That night Katie endured several seizures that changed her life forever. Her parents rushed her back to the doctor who had sent her home, this time the doctor had Katie airlifted to a hospital in Grand Rapids. The seizures permanently affected Katie’s motor skills. Certain muscles would never function the same again, and one of these muscles was her tongue. Not being able to move her tongue has left Katie without the ability to speak, so she uses an iPad to communicate with others. Although it’s a blessing that technology has allowed people with speaking disabilities to still communicate, it is still something that gets frustrating.
“Being able to express how she feels can be hard for her. The talking box does great but sometimes, you know, she’s swimming in the water with other kids and can’t take that with her, she’s on the playground in the sand and can’t take it with her. She’s got a lot going on in her head and she can’t always get it out. It’s frustrating when you can’t be understood.”
Katie is now 13-years-old, an age where one becomes hyper aware of their peers and social groups. Although Katie cannot speak, her intelligence is not affected. She is as smart and mentally developed as any other kid her age, but it can be hard to feel like a regular kid when you have struggles that are different than others. Katie is able to make connections with other kids who have struggles similar to hers at Camp ALEC in Grand Rapids. Camp ALEC is a camp for kids who typically don’t have the independence to attend a summer camp. Camp-goers are kids aged 7-21 who rely on a device, also called Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC), to communicate. For a week out of the summer Katie can be around peers that don’t make her feel different.
Camp ALEC is special in that it provides both fun, and function to non-speaking children. Katie was able to enjoy camp classics like zip lining and making crafts, but she also worked with literacy experts to determine her literacy strength and weaknesses. The informal assessments are used to give the literary experts an idea of how to inform instructional approaches for Katie’s needs, this information extends beyond Camp ALEC. The assessment’s information is used by her year-round school teachers.
Katie will be spending her fourth summer at Camp ALEC this month. She enjoys her time there and the joy she feels as a camper radiated through so much that she was featured in a short documentary about the camp.
Filmmaker Christopher Stoudt made a movie called Camp ALEC about the camp that provides campers with literacy help through the devices they have to use to communicate. The film asks how youth who speak through devices like iPads, also called Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC), find their voice and show who they are while relying on AAC to do so.
Christopher honed in on Katie as a subject for Camp ALEC because of how sweet and welcoming she is.
“She’s just a ball of light. She emanates joy and was so welcoming to me right away. I can’t even tell you how many times she hugged all of us.”
Camp ALEC is produced under The Kennedy/Marshall Company, the same production company that put on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Lincoln, Jurassic World and Sully. Traverse City Film Festival will be screening Camp ALEC at Central High School Auditorium on Saturday at noon and Katie will be there. The screening of Camp ALEC premieres in Traverse City just shy of a week before Katie will head back to camp for another fun-filled week with her camp pals.
“The experience she has, the memories she’s building and she gets to have a fun time. We’re a family of four kids so she gets to have some individual attention which is nice, too” Katie’s dad said.
Camp ALEC is a short documentary at only 18 minutes long. Come support the sweet happenings at Northern Michigan’s own Camp ALEC, and sweet slice of sunshine Katie Reinertson.