2010-10-07 / Living

Lapeer native starts non-profit to benefit autistic children


Wesleyan Academy graduate Ben Duff and his son, Brian, use an iPod Touch. Wesleyan Academy graduate Ben Duff and his son, Brian, use an iPod Touch. Technology is the corner piece of a good education, according to Ben Duff.

The Michigan native and former Lapeer resident recently founded Corner Pieces, a non-profit organization aimed at helping autistic children. According to the organization’s website, www.cornerpieces.org, their mission is “to improve the well-being of children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder by providing them with the latest educational technology.”

Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASDs, are a category of developmental disabilities that can cause a variety of social, behavioral and communication problems, according to the CDC.

On the rise in recent years, approximately 1 in 110 children in the U.S. are affected with an ASD. “The lack of communication,” according to Duff, “is the hardest thing to overcome.”

And Duff is no stranger to the struggles of autism. In May of 2006, Ben and his wife, Tiffany, gave birth to their son, Brian, while living in Lapeer County. By his second birthday, they noticed that Brian was having communication problems.

At first, the worried parents had their son’s hearing checked. However, the tests confirmed that his hearing was not the problem. After consulting other doctors, Duff, a graduate of Wesleyan Academy in North Branch, received hard news for any parent.

Brian was diagnosed with autism.

Ben and Tiffany immediately started researching doctors, aid, and care techniques to help their son. Among other things, Duff started using communication flash cards and therapy, and enrolled his son in a special needs school in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

Then, in April 2010 they purchased an iPod Touch. Many of the therapy devices available were expensive, and Duff discovered that similar applications were available on the iPod for a low cost or even for free. The results were immediate and undeniable.

Young Brian began using the various educational apps, from spelling exercises to puzzles and games. And the advantages of the technology were apparent to Duff; whereas the books and flashcards could get bent, torn or lost, the apps on the iPod were permanent. Instead of carrying a large bag of various educational tools and devices everywhere, many of them could be stored in that one small gadget.

Seeing firsthand how the iPod could open up children with communication problems due to ASD, and seeing the need for such technology to be readily available to those in need, Duff established a charity to fill that need, calling it Corner Pieces.

The primary goal of Corner Pieces is to provide iPods and iPads to autistic children, giving them to both individual children and schools. Corner Pieces is also providing information to the public on autism, its causes and the warning signs. They are compiling a list of apps available on the iPad that are helpful for special needs children, which will soon be available on the website.

The organization is also hoping to promote the creation of more applications and technology to help children with ASDs. “Everyday something new is coming out,” said Duff, “and this can give autistic children an outlet to a whole new life.”

Based out of Sault Ste. Marie where he lives now, Corner Pieces is currently working within Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes area.

Donations can be made via the website, which will be fully operational within a few weeks. Corner Pieces is also partnering with Elite Feet, located in downtown Lapeer, to hold a fundraiser event by early 2011.

The common symbol for autism awareness is a puzzle piece and “you need to start with the corner piece of any puzzle” says Duff.

For more information, visit www.cornerspieces.org.

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