Jasmynn Archer is a 16-year old from Adrian, Michigan. She’s the last of five children and has just welcomed a foreign exchange student into her family home. She’s also a nonverbal autistic person.
Jasmynn was diagnosed with autism in 2004 when she was three years old. She got an iPad when she was five. Although she lacks fine motor skills, she is able to use an iPad to communicate. While Jasmynn can’t hold a pencil, she can draw with her finger, and the iPad allows her to draw letters to write.
She then explained the significance of giving iPads to children with autism. “To buy an app to communicate on an iPad that insurance will pay for might cost $7,000-$12,000. The apps that we give out are $300. For $500-$600, we can put a device in a child’s hand, as long as a child has support to learn how to use it.”
Mrs. Archer said that her daughter can use her iPad to talk about everything she likes and dislikes, but there are still some difficulties in communication.
“She doesn’t use it to say, ‘Hey Tammy, good to see you.’ I don’t know if that will ever come. I hope it will, that she doesn’t always need mom beside her to help her function in society, but we don’t know where she’ll end up at, or how that will work out.”
The main symptoms of autism are feeling overwhelmed by environmental stimuli, poor social skills and extreme sensitivity to touch.
“Autism in a nutshell is neurological, behavioral differences,” said Archer. “I wouldn’t say deficits, it’s okay to be different. It’s just that the rest of the world isn’t quite as accepting of our differences.”
Jasmynn’s mother, Melissa Archer, has worked as an English teacher. She saw children in special education Intermediate School District programs, but couldn’t imagine that Jasmynn was one of those children.
“It wasn’t until she sat on her butt at a wedding on the gym floor and spun around the periphery, and none of the other kids were doing that, and I thought ‘that’s so not typical., said Mrs. Archer”
Jasmynn’s Voice is a non-profit organization aimed at giving iPads to children and adults with autism. iPads are incredibly helpful in allowing non-verbal people with autism the ability to communicate with others that they otherwise would not have.
Children living in Hillsdale, Jackson, Monroe, Lenawee and Wastenaw counties can get in contact with Jasmynn’s Voice via their Facebook page. The Archer family also travels to these counties to promote their organization and get their name out to children in need. The organization has stayed small because they wish to know that they have a strong family to support their child rather than simply giving them a free iPad. They have bought and given out over 230 iPads to autistic children in Southern Michigan.
Jasmynn’s Voice was invited to Albion College by Psi Chi, the Psychological Honors Society at Albion College. Jessica Mooney, the President of Psi Chi, explained that they invited Jasmynn’s Voice to come to Albion for this event because of the Archer family’s close relationship with Professor Tammy Jechura of the psychology department. They wanted to show their support for the Archer family and their organization by pairing up with them for an event.
“We started Jasmynn’s Voice to be able to help other kids when we saw what Jasmynn could do with her iPad. All of our family is involved,” said Mrs. Archer.
Jasmynn was meant to speak at the event last Thursday, October 26, but due to a malfunction with the projector that was supposed to help illustrate how an iPad helps her to communicate, she was unable to continue. Her mother stepped up instead and began to talk about what it is like to raise an autistic, nonverbal child. As the parent of a special needs child, Mrs. Archer said that her stress level is “always off the clock.”
“I’m always trying to put out mini fires,” she said.“Had the screen worked, you’d have seen a different Jasmynn. But because things didn’t work, we had an issue. She will talk about that until she goes to sleep tonight and first thing in the morning tomorrow.”
Mrs. Archer then went on to tell a heartrending story illustrating how difficult it can be for her daughter to communicate with her parents.
In fifth grade, Jasmynn showed a brochure to her mother that her mother had picked up at a human trafficking facility. The brochure depicted a little girl with a man’s hand over her mouth.
“I have never told her to be quiet, or to shut up, because I don’t want to teach her things she doesn’t need to know,” her mother said.
A teacher had been putting her hand over Jasmynn’s mouth and telling her to be quiet at school for months, and Jasmynn was unable to communicate this to her family.
Archer also shared a story explaining how it feels to be watched in public.
“If she’s not on her best game, she stands out. We were in the produce section, and she was not all right. She started shrieking and began to panic. I could see people were watching us but it wasn’t until she said, ‘People are watching us.’ The fact that she was aware that we were being watched, that made me angry.”
The Archers wish to pass out cards, which were handed out at the event when situations like this occur. The cards read “I am autistic,” and provide a list of the different symptoms of autism.
“A lot of people don’t know a lot about autism,” said Rachel Appel, a junior psychology major from Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, who attended the event and is a member of Psi Chi. “People don’t want to know, and lectures like this help to inform the general populace, which helps spread awareness for parents.”
Photo by Kellie Brown