Barrington HS student helps special needs kids find their voice
Barrington High School junior Jack Kieffer, who assists at the Northwest Special Recreation Association, introduced the children to an iPad application called Proloquo2Go, which allows non-verbal children with autism to ÒspeakÓ using the iPad. | Photo courtesy Jack Kieffer
Updated: February 5, 2013 12:44PM
BARRINGTON — Volunteer work with special needs children inspired Barrington High School junior Jack Kieffer to think of new ways to help them communicate.
Kieffer, who assists at the Northwest Special Recreation Association, introduced the children to an iPad application called Proloquo2Go, which allows non-verbal children with autism to “speak” using the iPad.
Now, Kieffer leads free community seminars on how to use Proloquo2Go. He also launched a website called Autism Plugged-In, www.autismpluggedin.com, which serves as a resource for parents and educators who are interested in using the latest technology to help teach their children with autism spectrum disorders.
Q: How long have you lived in the Barrington area?
A: I have lived in South Barrington for 10 years.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in Denver, Colo.
Q: What about Barrington makes you proud?
A: The Barrington area is a safe place to live, and everyone who lives here is really invested in the community.
Q: What is your favorite community event?
A: My favorite community event is Dad’s Fest, which is held annually at Willow Creek Community Church. My dad and I have fun eating free hot dogs and checking out the cars that are on display.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant or entertainment venue in town?
A: Egg Harbor has wonderful crepes, and I usually order 10 or 11 for breakfast when I go there.
Q: If you were mayor for the day, what would you do?
A: I would initiate a project to build a set of roads that run 10 feet above the current set of roads in order to increase traffic flow and ensure that I get to school on time.
Q: What has changed in Barrington since you moved here?
A: Over the last 10 years, South Barrington has grown with the addition of The Arboretum shopping area and the new community park.
Q: What inspired you to become involved in autism awareness?
A: Initially, I was volunteering with special needs kids at Northwest Special Recreation Association (NWSRA) in order to give back to the community and to earn service hours for the Congressional Award. I worked with several children affected by autism and saw that they had trouble communicating with the current tools, and I knew that the iPad could offer a better solution.
Q: What got you interested in this kind of work?
A: I had already been running a geek blog and was freelance writing online for multiple sites, so starting a website that would find and review autism apps for these kids seemed like a logical next step.
Q: What are your future career/volunteering goals?
A: I plan to continue volunteering at St. Alexius Medical Center and with special needs children. I was recently certified as a Proloquo2Go Trainer and have been busy training parents and educators to use this powerful AAC application with their special needs children and students.
My career goal is to become a neurosurgeon and/or work in the neurology field, perhaps with autism or with individuals who are affected by other mental disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.).
Q: What is your proudest moment or greatest achievement?
A: While volunteering, one of my proudest moments was when I showed a boy with autism how to use Proloquo2Go and saw him progress in his ability to communicate. Academically, my greatest achievement was earning a perfect 240 on the PSAT.
Q: What are you reading?
A: I recently read “When The Air Hits Your Brain” by Frank Vertosick Jr., MD, which is a book about neurosurgery and the life of a neurosurgeon. I am currently reading “Mystic River” by Dennis Lehane.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: My favorite current movie is one that I saw just a couple of weeks ago, “Django Unchained,” which is an excellent Quentin Tarantino film.
Q: What’s on your iPod?
A: I listen to a lot of electronic music: Dank, Skrillex, Alvin Risk, Seven Lions and others.
Q: What’s your favorite vacation destination?
A: I enjoy going on cruises, if that counts as a destination. The most incredible place that I have ever visited is Japan.
Q: Are you a summer or winter person?
A: Winter is better than summer, but spring is really the best season. Not too hot, not too cold.