'It's given her a voice': Local musician fundraises for Autism communication tools

April is Autism Awareness Month, and a local musician is using his performances to fundraise in different ways, including for sensory toys and devices at his five-year-old daughter’s school.

"Their way of thinking is normal to them, it just looks different to us," says Ray Coleman, an Irish musician and father to Céilí, who was diagnosed with autism at age two.

"She wasn’t answering her name when we would say her name, not much eye contact, wasn’t playing with toys properly just wasn’t meeting her milestones," says Jaclyn Coleman, Céilí’s mom.

Currently, Céilí is non-verbal, but early intervention, most recently at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, is teaching her other ways to voice her wants and needs.

She started with using pictures, and is now moving to an AAC device, which looks like an iPad. Through apps, Céilí can communicate about almost anything.

"What she wants to play with, what she wants to eat , it’s allowing her to identify colors that she may not be able to identify," says Ali Melman, Céilí’s Early Intervention Autistic Support Teacher at MCIU.

Céilí’s parents say she started to use the device at home and it’s a game changer.

"We could tell that she wasn’t feeling good, and she started hitting ‘My belly hurts, my belly hurts,’ on her iPad," says Jaclyn.

However, these devices are not readily available.

The Coleman’s say they quickly learned that they are not only expensive, but Céilí’s took nine months to come in. That gave Ray an idea.

He performs his Irish music all over the Delaware Valley and decided to pitch a fundraiser for Autism Awareness Month at one of his regular spots. From there, it took off.

"I was only going to do one night and now there’s a whole month of stuff, people are calling me, donating money, they’re doing little fundraisers themselves," he says.

Through an online fundraiser with the Eagles Autism Challenge, Team Céilí has raised nearly $10,000.

Money raised through Ray’s various performances this month will go to Céilí’s school and other local schools for things like sensory toys and AAC devices.

"It’s given her a voice," says Jaclyn. "We’ll see what the future holds with it, it could do wonders for her in the future."

Ray’s next performance that will double as a fundraiser will be on Monday, April 24th at the Ashburner Inn in Northeast Philadelphia from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.