Donation offers comfort, practicality for Bret Harte Elementary autistic students

Aubree Casas, 5, uses a ScrubBee to wash her hands during class at Bret Harte Elementary School in Burbank on Wednesday morning. Bret Harte received a donation of ScrubBee scrubbers for its language-enriched autism program, or LEAP. The scrubbers are used to gently wash hands.
(Photo by James Carbone)

For about 10 seconds, Bret Harte Elementary School student Kyle Lin stared intently at a packet of brightly colored silicone tubular building pieces stored within a plastic sealable bag.

Lin, one of 18 students in the school’s second-year language-enriched autism program, or LEAP, lit up as his plans morphed into quick action.

The 6-year-old student opened the packet and constructed a 12-inch straw, which he dunked into a nearby water cup and drank with delight.

“Maybe the most amazing thing about these products are all the uses,” LEAP parent Lisa Casas said. “They’re so versatile and so helpful.”


Casas’ friend, former Burroughs High School classmate Amy Leinbach, donated 200 ScrubBee hand-and-body scrubbers and a dozen Build-A-Straw adjustable and reusable straw packets to LEAP on Wednesday morning.

“There are two aspects I think about with my products: practicality and comfort,” said Leinbach, a Huntington Beach resident. “The straws just hit the market a couple weeks back, so I haven’t had the feedback that I’ve had with the scrubbers yet, which has been great.”

Casas is a believer in the ScrubBee, a hand-held silicone-based scrubber resembling a beehive sitting atop a honeycomb.

Kyle Lin, 6, drinks water using “build-a-straw” reusable silicone straw during class at Bret Harte Elementary School in Burbank on Wednesday. Bret Harte Elementary School received a donation of ScrubBEE scrubbers and “build-a-straw” reusable silicone straws for its Language Enriched Autism Program, or LEAP.
(Photo by James Carbone)

Her daughter Aubree, 5, is perhaps not too dissimilar from other children in disliking and trying to avoid baths at all costs. Aubree’s attitude changed, however, thanks to the scrubber.


“For kids that are on the [autism] spectrum, it takes a while to get an understanding, even me as a parent, that she needs to have a certain object all the time,” Casas said.

“She needs a soothing object and, for her, it’s been the scrubber. She literally won’t take a bath without it,” Casas added.

On Wednesday, Aubree walked over to the LEAP kindergarten-and-first-grade classroom sink and washed her hands, using a donated scrubber, without fuss.

“I don’t know if Amy knows what this means for me,” said Casas, who fought back tears.

Leinbach, a former special education teacher at Sun Valley Middle School, said her entrepreneurial inspiration comes from her 4-year-old daughter, Marlo.

Leinbach recalled the difficulty her preschooler had in bathing using traditional wash clothes and sponges, which led to the creation of the ScrubBee.

Martha Walter, principal at Bret Harte Elementary School in Burbank, demonstrates how to use a ScrubBee to wash your hands with some of her students on Wednesday. Bret Harte Elementary School received a donation of ScrubBee scrubbers for its Language Enriched Autism Program, or LEAP. The scrubbers are used for hand washing and are gentle.
(Photo by James Carbone)

As for the straws, Leinbach said she was tired of using “disgusting” restaurant scissors to cut the size of plastic straws for her daughter.

“My straws will help with the variable cup heights, from kid’s cups to traditional cups, even to adult sizes, which some restaurants give to kids,” Leinbach said.


Students in Megan Rauch’s LEAP class built towers with the straws, while some played with the scrubbers and others washed their hands.

“It seems to be, for those who do get very energetic, a calming influence,” Rauch said. “It has great uses, too, to help them wash.”

The donation was also touching for Martha Walter, Harte’s principal.

“I have the sweetest kids ever,” Walter said. “Just the way they automatically gravitated toward the scrubber and used it and to see their faces showed me how excited they were.”

Walter added, “That’s what makes the gift special.”

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