When Melissa Satterfield’s son, Chase, was 2 ½, and still not speaking, she began to worry. She made an appointment with her pediatrician, who said it was probably just delayed early development. Melissa requested a referral to speech therapy, anyway, hoping that it would help.
Around the age of three, Chase’s speech therapist said it might be time to speak to a doctor about his speech issues, but again, Melissa and her husband Dave were told that it was probably just late development. When he still wasn’t talking at the age of four, she put her foot down and sought a second opinion. A long and grueling year later, at the age of five, Chase was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Like most parents who reach that pinnacle and pass through the threshold between fears and official diagnosis, Melissa and Dave felt both relieved and filled with uncertainty; Relived to finally have answers to questions that had been unanswered for too long, and uncertain of what their next steps should be and what the future held for Chase.
At the end of his diagnostic appointment, doctors at Children’s Hospital handed Melissa a stack of reading materials, gave her a firm handshake, and wished her good luck. For her, it was the beginning of a temporary downward spiral into depression. For so long, she had wanted answers, but now that she had them, she wasn’t sure what to do with them. She didn’t know anything about autism, and wasn’t prepared for the diagnosis.
She had given birth, not long before, to their second son, Dalton, and was exhausted from the day-to-day responsibilities of caring for a young nonverbal son and a newborn.
She wasn’t sure if she could find it in herself to rise up and meet the challenge that Chase’s diagnosis presented, and for several weeks, she stayed in bed, doubting her abilities as a mother, and as a wife; doubting her ability to handle all that lay before her, until finally Dave came into their bedroom one day and said, “Melissa – Enough. You have two sons who need their mother. It’s time to get back up and figure this out.”
She knew that he was right and his simple but honest words lit a fire in her soul. The time for feeling sorry was over. Chase deserved to have every therapy and form of help that she could provide for him.
She started researching different treatments and therapies and felt gutted all over again when she learned that Applied Behavior Analysis was the best form of treatment, but one that was far beyond the financial reach of her family at $250 an hour for sessions.
Continued research into other avenues of therapy revealed that an iPad could be extremely effective for teaching nonverbal children to speak, but even an iPad was out of her family’s budget.
Determined and undeterred, Melissa fell back on a hobby that she had been passionate about since she was 11 years old, and with the help of 12 friends, two of which were fellow Autism Moms, she started baking cookies. She baked and sold cookies for almost 18 solid months, sometimes doing two or three cookie sales a week.
Just as Henry Ford realized during the Industrial Revolution that assembly lines are an effective and efficient way to assemble automobiles, Melissa learned that cookies could be baked, cooled, iced, and packaged under the same principles.
Melissa and her cookie crew would bake cookies while her mother manned the sale table, trekking countless miles to set up at various locations around town. Melissa says, “She was a very integral part of Cookies For iPads.”
The hard work and dedication of Melissa’s team paid off, and she was able to purchase an iPad for Chase. Within a week of receiving his iPad, Chase began to speak. Melissa says, “I’ll never forget it, as long as I live. I had been playing with his iPad and programming different phrases, just to see how it worked, never imagining that he would learn so quickly.
One morning, about a week after we had gotten his iPad, he walked into the kitchen and said, ‘I’d like to eat breakfast at the table, please.’ I almost fell over. That was when I realized what a miracle an iPad can be for a child on the spectrum, and I realized that every child needs an iPad.” The greatest joy, said Melissa, was hearing Chase say, “I love you” for the first time.
That was the beginning of Cookies For iPads. Melissa says, “My grandma used to always say, ‘If your cookie jar is full you have hope for a sweeter day tomorrow.’ So that’s where the Jar of Hope came from.” That Jar of Hope, the donation jar used during cookie sales, would become a literal symbol of hope for parents of children on the spectrum who couldn’t afford expensive therapies, or iPads for needed communication help.
Melissa and her team continued to bake and sell cookies every weekend and started accepting applications for iPad recipients. Her platform was simple – Give back to the community in order to receive. Recipients of iPads are required to participate in three volunteer events within the community in order to be eligible to receive their iPad, effectively working to ‘Pay it Forward’ and cover the expenses for the next person’s iPad. In the beginning, the requirement involved baking cookies that could be sold at a table set up in front of Wal-Mart.
Now, the program is a bit more advanced, and volunteer opportunities are more abundant. Melissa says those first few months not only served as a way to supply children with needed devices, it also helped to foster a sense of community, bringing together ‘Autism Moms’ (and dads, grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, etc) for a common cause – something that was not there before.
In 2011, a friend tagged Melissa in a Facebook post about The Make It Fit Foundation’s Autism Motorcycle, a custom built motorcycle covered in perfectly airbrushed puzzle pieces and other stunning visuals representing autism. Melissa reached out to Make It Fit Founder, Mike Hoover, and explained the Cookies For iPads project.
The next week, Melissa provided an iPad for Mike’s son, Adam, and later that summer, Make It Fit auctioned a basket of Melissa’s cookies for $2,500. Melissa jokes, “I officially broke the record for world’s most expensive cookies!” The rest, she says, is history.
Moved by Melissa’s determination, vision, and dedication, Mike decided to make it official, taking Cookies For iPads under the wing of the nonprofit as an ongoing Make It Fit project. As a team, they have been able to purchase and give away over 200 iPads, to date.
Since 2006, Cheryl’s Cookies & Brownies has been a proud sponsor of The Make It Fit Foundation, supplying cookies to be sold, or auctioned, at fundraisers. When Mike learned about the mission of Cookies For iPads, the connection seemed obvious. Since 2011, when Cookies For iPads became an official Make It Fit project, Cheryl’s has provided thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise for sale and auction to support the program. “The ultimate goal,” says Mike, “is to create a packaged fundraiser that would allow parents, schools, therapy providers, and other organizations in need of iPads for therapeutic purposes a means to fundraise through cookie sales and earn the devices they need.” They’re in the beginning stages of this partnership, but as Melissa says – the future of Cookies For iPads is bright.
If you would like more information about The Make It Fit Foundation and the Cookies For iPads program, or to apply online, you can visit their website at http://www.makeitfit.org/cookies-4-ipads/. You can also visit them on Facebook and Twitter.
Melissa Satterfield and her husband Dave have been married for 10 years. Together, they raise three adorable (and totally rotten) little boys – Davey is eleven, Chase is nine, and Dalton is four. Melissa has two degrees – one in nursing and another in forensic pathology. She currently works as a surgical physician’s assistant in a facility near her home. Her husband Dave works for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, and is a tenured police officer currently employed part-time as a Deputy in Richland County. They reside in Ashland, Ohio.
Nikki Stiles and her fiancé, Chip Curry, have been together for almost five years. Together, they have three children – Taylor is thirteen and Savannah is ten. Both reside in the home. Caiden is twenty-two and graduated valedictorian from Full Sail University in Florida, where he currently resides. Nikki has volunteered for The Make It Fit Foundation as the Communications Director and general jack-of-all-trades for the past nine years. She has a degree in Web Graphic Design from DeVry University and currently resides, with her family, in Lexington, Ohio.
This article was featured in Issue 44 – Strategies for Daily Life with Autism