Keeley Murphy has always struggled academically at school.
But now the 14-year-old has created an organisation that is improving the lives of children Australia wide.
Ballan-based charity Keeley’s Cause provides iPads for children with autism or an intellectual disability.
Keeley and her mother Sharon Murphy, with the help of an army of supporters, have presented 37 children with their own iPad in just under nine months.
For many children, the technology has revolutionised their learning and ability to communicate.
Keeley was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at a young age and was recently diagnosed with an intellectual disability.
She struggled at primary school to keep up with learning in the classroom which heightened her social anxiety.
Picture: Kate Healy
A cognitive report when she moved to homeschooling showed she was years behind in schooling.
But teachers and mum Sharon noticed technology was improving her learning experience.
“When you give Keeley a sheet of work she gets overwhelmed,” Sharon said.
“Her grade two teacher said if you put that same work on an iPad or computer and ask the questions one by one she would get the, all right.”
Families are all telling the same story. It is about extra support for their children.
Sharon Murphy, Keeley's Cause director
The Department of Education does not fund individual iPads for autistic students to use full time at school.
This meant Keeley could not take advantage of an iPad for her learning.
It was this experience that sparked her fundraising idea – she didn’t want another child with autism to suffer like she did.
What started with two sausage sizzles to raise money for iPads has expanded to an organisation that is having a national impact with the backing of the Ballan Lions.
“We want to give these children the best education they can get. If an iPad is what they need to do it, we’re going to give it to them,” Sharon said.
“Keeley doesn’t want anyone else to go through what she went through.”
Keeley’s Cause has raised almost $30,000 since October 2017.
IMPACT OF THE IPAD
An iPad for Keeley has revolutionised her learning. For other children with autism or an intellectual disability, the technology has provided them the power to communicate.
Rodney, 26, is non-verbal. He received an iPad from Keeley’s Cause in February.
“The iPad now has changed his life so he can now effectively communicate,” Sharon said.
“Even something as simple as now being able to order at McDonalds through the iPad to get what he wants.”
NDIS can fund autism related apps.
Picture: Kate Healy
Children who are non-verbal can communicate through apps which allow them to show with animations how they are feeling or use pictures to map out what they would like to say.
“There are picture icons so they can map out words and say something like ‘I want to go to the park’. Where parents and children weren’t able to communicate, the iPad and the apps allow them to do it,” Sharon said.
Sharon and Keeley are travelling to Queensland to present iPads to two children on Friday.
A Sydney Lions group has expressed interest in adopting Keeley’s Cause as a project, which will allow the cause to reach children in need in New South Wales.
To Sharon, the demand for support has been clear.
“A lady in Cranbourne applied for two iPads for her children with intellectual disabilities. When I told her their application was successful she cried on the phone,” Sharon said.
“A lot of families can’t afford to fund the iPads on their own because a lot of them are on a carer payment.
“Families are all telling the same story. It is about extra support for their children and individual learning plans.
“All children learn differently, but there is something about the iPad and technology that works for those with disabilities. It is a world they understand better.”
Sharon Murphy and daughter Keeley. Picture: Kate Healy
Sharon sees a bigger need for change for children on the autism spectrum.
She wants to see an autism specialist in every school.
“If children with autism are in mainstream schools, they must have an individual learning plan and extra support. There are a lot of teachers in schools who don’t understand autism because they have never experienced it… and they don’t always have the time.
“My idea would be the student goes to school and mixes with other kids but when it comes to that function of learning they might not understand like Maths and English, then they can go the autism teacher to learn in a way they know.
“And if the kids are having meltdowns or aren’t communicating effectively, you have got that autism teacher those kids would trust and could be their voice.”
Keeley is now at Melton Specialist School after a short period of home schooling. Primary school was challenging, but she is thriving now with extra support, an individual learning plan and an iPad at school.
A new release of merchandise is helping to boost the Keeley’s Cause fundraising effort which has been based on sponsorship, donations and fundraising in the past.
Picture: Kate Healy
Keeley’s Cause will contrinue to grow in support and reach as more Lions groups come on board as supporters.
No matter what happens next, each child who is involved becomes a part of a network of supporters that wants every child to shine and be the best they can be.
Visit keeleyscause.org.au/ for more.