TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Not long after three-and-a-half- year-old Owen Schmidtlein was born, his parents Matt and Kelly noticed something different.
At around four months, Kelly says she noticed he always kept his thumbs tucked into his hands, which was different from how she saw other babies in the family acting. The couple talked to their doctor, which led to testing that diagnosed Owen with autistic disorder and developmental delay.
For Matt and Kelly, it brought a reality faced with questions. They say the worried what their life would be like and what challenges Owen might face. They wondered what would happen when he got to high school and what services would be available for him as an adult.
"Your world changes," Kelly said. "It's so final when they give you the words on paper."
Their search for answers led them to Easter Seals Capper Foundation.
Capper president and CEO Jim Leiker says the mission of the organization is to provide exceptional individualized services so people with disabilities can live, learn, work and play in their communities.
The Capper Foundation traces its roots to Christmas night 1920. A worker returned from delivering publisher Arthur Capper's donation of toys and candy, and told the future senator how children with disabilities lagged behind their peers in their eagerness to see what Santa brought. Capper vowed to do more so these children would not be outdistanced and would have an even chance in the race of life.
Today, in addition to speech, physical and occupational therapy for children, Capper offers adult services. Launched in 2012, the adult program includes opportunities to work in a custom furniture shop, small engine repair, auto detailing, even a business support center, where local businesses hire them for jobs like mailings. Capper also has expanded its services to meet the demands of the growing number of children diagnosed with autism. They have a board-certified behavior analyst on staff and therapists have special training in sensory processing and other aspects of autism.
In 2013, Capper served nearly 2700 people in 43 cities and 14 counties. The organization provided $1.84 million in charity and unreimbursed care.
Leiker says it's possible through the combined efforts of staff, families, donors and volunteers.
"I believe life really is about love and laughter and caring and sharing and reaching out and helping people be the best they can be," Leiker said.
Therapy helped Owen overcome his initial physical issues with eating and standing. He then added speech therapy, which has taught him skills to help him start communicating with others. While he still does not do much verbalizing, Kelly and Matt say he's gained more confidence in asking for what he wants using other methods, such as picture association.
"We appreciate more than anyone will know the gift people give when they support Capper foundation," Kelly said. "It's changed our lives."
The Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce presents its Small Business Awards in a ceremony May 13th at Washburn University.
You can support Easter Seals Capper Foundation at the 2nd annual Law Enforcement Run to Remember. Owen and his family will lead the way for the 5k run/walk and 1 mile fun run, 8:30 am Saturday, May 10, at Lake Shawnee shelter house #4. The local Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary has designated proceeds from the event this year be donated to Capper.