The Special Education Foundation

The Special Education Foundation provides support and assistance to students who receive services from the Special School District of St. Louis County. Support areas include scholarships, summer camps, arts in the classroom, hearing aids, eyeglasses, assistive equipment, a high school leadership program, teacher mini-grants for innovative classroom programs, parent support, Special Olympics and student recognition.

The Tilles Foundation, through a grant for adaptive computer equipment, has opened the doors for accessibility, communication and employment for students with physical disabilities. The impact of funds from the Tilles Foundation in the lives of these students is significant in that it not only fills a critical need, but also paves the path to independence.

The Tilles Foundation grant serves youth with physical disabilities, ages 18 to 21, whose sole avenue for communication is the use of adaptive computer equipment. These augmentative devices allow contact with the outside world, improve social interactions and generate engagement in a broader range of activities, thus paving their path to greater independence.

The students who receive the computer equipment are served by the Special School District. Their disabilities are often the result of birth trauma, disease or traumatic accident. After completion of their education with the district, students’ families must purchase the adaptive equipment as all such devices remain as property of the School District. As having a child with a disability is very costly for the family, and many have difficulty securing the financial resources necessary to purchase the necessary equipment. The grant from the Tilles Foundation serves as that critical financial resource for youth with physical disabilities through its partnership with the Special Education Foundation.

An unexpected benefit of the project rests not only in the joy and appreciation of parents and students who receive the equipment, but also in the ability of students to enjoy employment and participate in a broad range of everyday activities in the home and in the community.

These students, so often blessed with high intellect, are “locked” in their bodies due to their physical limitations. The augmentative communication devices allow them to have contact with the outside world, to strengthen their social interactions, and to foster their independence.

The long-range goals of the Special Education Foundation consistently remain in the provision of service to children and youth with disabilities in areas not supported by tax dollars. A major component of these services rests in providing equipment to students with physical disabilities. Having a disability is costly for families, and special education is expensive. There is no way that one entity can provide for all the needs of all the students. That’s where the Special Education Foundation steps in—to pick up where the tax dollars stop. A major need for children is equipment that is not available through tax revenue. Hence, the provision of equipment continues in the long-range plans of the Special Education Foundation.

Adam Selm is a 21-year old young man who recently completed his education with the Special School District. Adam was born with Mitochondrial Myopathy, a neuro-muscular disorder. Hence, Adam is unable to walk, is confined to a wheelchair, and has no verbal communication skills. However, Adam understands all that is said to him.  

Upon meeting Adam, one is immediately engaged due to his easy charm and incredible smile. He is outgoing, funny and extremely social. He is an avid St. Louis sports fan, however, Adam's inability to communicate is a big obstacle for him.

Due to the generosity of the Tilles Foundation, that obstacle is no longer a barrier for Adam.  The Tilles Foundation provided a mini-bent Tube Mount and Ballistic Jacket Case for Adam's iPad. The Tube Mount, attached to Adam's wheelchair, allows Adam to have his laptop in front of him at all times. This allows him to communicate through his iPad—which produces his vocalizations. Adam now orders food in restaurants, discusses items to be purchased at local retail stores and communicates freely with family and peers.

Prior to the Tube Mount, Adam needed the assistance of another to remove his laptop from his backpack and place it on a special tablet for him to use. This proved to be cumbersome and difficult to manage.

The Tube Mount with the iPad has given Adam independence and greatly increased his self-confidence. He is presently preparing for his next step of transitioning to a sheltered workshop for gainful employment. His mother, Patti Selm, states, "We are so appreciative of the Tilles Foundation and the Special Education Foundation for this life-altering equipment for Adam. We see tremendous improvements in his communication abilities and in his overall self-confidence. For all this, we are thrilled—as is Adam."

For more information on the Special Education Foundation, please visit