First impressions, in my profession as an Early Intervention Specialist,
included the homes we visited, the families we met, the therapists’
teamwork, and how to integrate appropriate lessons for babies from
age 3 months up until they turned 3 years old.
I was hired to perform the role of ‘facilitator’ or teacher. I enjoyed
every minute of those two years, from Fall, 1999 up until Fall, 2002.
I was busily transferring and evolving from my four years of being
an Activities Director into an EI Specialist. I was taking under-
graduate courses at Columbus State University, learning what were
the principle educational practices, strategies and current techniques.
Although a parent of three ‘typically developing’ children, helped
to prepare me, I had never been a teacher of this particular age level.
When I met Hunter, it was August, 1999. I was still in the “Orientation
mode” of my new job. His mother was going through a divorce, attractive,
living in a beautiful home where her daughter, April, was all things
‘girly,’ including ballet, My Little Ponies and her Princess-themed
decorations in her bedroom. April was like a ‘ray of sunshine’ for both
her mother and brother. She immediately made a positive impression on
us, by showering a lot of love and hugs on her baby brother. Hunter
would not smile or watch her, but he seemed to kick more while she was
in his presence. (Not developing ‘eye contact’ is a primary sign of
Rhonda’s son was quite the opposite from April, in his developmental
stages. Rhonda described his not wanting to breast feed, some failure
to thrive reactions to not wanting to suck on a bottle, either. She
told us she had felt overwhelmed, until she tried her 10th type of
bottle nipple and binky (or pacifier.) The baby had cried constantly,
reminding her of a friend’s baby who had colic.
Hunter, when we met him at age 3 months, was not outgoing, not responding
to many stimuli, it seemed. His overall, ‘outward’ appearance was of a
beautiful baby boy. Hunter was eating, sleeping and crying sometimes, but
being her second child, April instinctively had ‘known’ something was
Hunter’s physician had recently handed her a Morrow County flyer about
the building known as Whetstone River Family and Children Center and
its services within. It outlined a series of questions, that if your
child were not doing these age appropriate actions or stages of baby
development, there may be concerns. A nurse would come to the family’s
home and carry out the next step of the process of identifying needs
for treatment. The pediatrician recommended Rhonda call the nurse’s
phone number on the flyer. She set up a home visit where the nurse could
check out the baby’s weight regularly and help with some of her feeding
concerns. She also highly recommended calling the Early Intervention
phone number that was also included in the pamphlet.
In my new ‘place of work’ our building ‘housed’ offices for Social
Workers, Therapists, Big Brother/Big Sister Program, four classrooms
of integrated learning with typically developing children as ‘peers’
and children with varied special needs or delays. There was also, a
daycare center and two Head Start classrooms.
At the time, (Summer, ’99) the special needs adults were also located
within the building with a great group of one to one aides. Their ‘leader’
was Rita and her ‘assistant leader,’ Barb. They were busy receiving orders
for caning chairs, folding hats for Steak and Shake restaurants and other
special business orders for hand woven wine baskets from up on Lake Erie.
Walk-ins would ask for woven baskets of all sizes, once they viewed the
lovely examples. This whole ‘workshop’ ended up being moved to a
During the school year, Rita and Barb continued to teach the young
adults, education lessons in subject matters along with “Life Skills”
lessons in a classroom in our building. The site of Whetstone Industries
was a much better place, since the business had grown in leaps and bounds.
I studied and learned about two different programs that were being used,
in schools and learning centers to help bring out children with Autism
and ones who are considered “on the Spectrum.” I was able to understand
the positive and negative aspects and results of an ABA program versus
a Floortime Program. ABA is based on simple tasks, giving a reward and
then moving to another task. The A represents the first action and the
B is the reward, while another application of the A will be given. It is
actually a lot like B.F. Skinner’s behavioral analysis programs. (Not
that children are like ‘salivating dogs!’) Consistency, as in all actions
and lessons involving children, is very important in this ABA program.
Floortime was another program that seemed to reap benefits with children
with Autism. This was more of a freeplay, with some guided decisions made
by the one to one aides, playing with some ‘agenda’ or plans made for the
Both ABA and Floortime were involved in Whetstone’s approach to learning
within a ‘center based’ grouping, involving only the children who were
tested and identified with Autism. These same children would also, spend
time within our classroom. Often, we would start our Early Intervention
class with freeplay, anyway, so that went along with Floortime, while
as long as the children seemed to be participating or at least, not
screaming, they would stay in our group setting. We would have story
time, circle time, crafts and fine motor activities and center time.
After two years of being an EI Specialist, I chose to apply to be one
of the Preschool Special Ed teachers at Whetstone. I felt very lucky
to be chosen, since I was in 2002, 47 years old. I would have to be
interviewed and selected for the Master’s degree class at OSU, while
I did have a coworker find she could just apply to Ashland University.
I was hoping to go to Marion’s branch of OSU, while some courses would
take me to ‘main campus.’ The thought of driving farther north, since
I already was making a 45 minute drive daily to Mt. Gilead, did not
thrill me, to go to Ashland… it would have added another 45 minute
drive away from home.
If you are a parent or teacher,you may know other ways that are
currently practiced. The new studies, through research that scientists
and doctors conduct includes something called, “Affinity Therapy.”
There is a Dr. Palfrey, who has been studying and recording research
on this new practice.
To summarize progress in the two years I worked with Hunter:
We had found that Hunter was one who responded to his home visits
and group sessions well. He was helped by our suggestions to his
mother, Rhonda, who started to take him to public places, before
the crowds would gather, enrolled him in a Food Study program at
OSU, where they try to break food habits that have been established
by the family. Rhonda really missed him, since she could only watch
outside the glass windowed/mirrors, but Hunter was, at age 3 years old,
being given ABA style lessons in incorporating more of a variety
of foods. The children we met in our EI classroom, and later, in
my Preschool classroom, with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, would
tend to not eat foods with any kind of texture or colors. Bland
and soft were their foods of choice. The OSU program was ‘free’
since Rhonda applied for a scholarship, and Hunter ‘passed’ his
overnights for 5 days, being ‘let go’ before the whole week had
been used. Rhonda was shocked to see how quickly he adapted to
the regimen of trying foods, admitting that when Hunter ‘shrieked,’
she would ‘cave in’ to his wishes. She had worried about his
starving ‘to death’ for the 7 days. She was able to hug him and
give him a bedtime story, but all the rest of the time, she was
an observer on the other side of the mirror! He was able to join
a preschool classroom, full time after one year of a split schedule
where Hunter went to a classroom of children with Autism, in the
morning and in the afternoon an integrated special needs one. He
went on to kindergarten, with his IEP including a one to one aide,
and later, in third grade the one to one aide was discontinued.
While watching CBS Sunday Morning Show, (5/4/14), I was happy to
learn more about new ways children and adults were responding with
therapies, interventions and techniques concerning Autism. The people
who are on the Spectrum, were also being discussed. I had heard, from
a person who writes about her son, on a blog, that he was using a
facilitated computer program. She had shared that he was able to
express himself, by typing his thoughts on the computer. She says
he is a ‘typical’ hungry, self-centered teenager!
The Sunday interview was with a couple, Ron and Cornelia Suskind, who
had discovered their son’s life had been influenced and ‘directed’ by
his watching Disney classic animated children’s movies.
The book to read on this is called, “Life, Animated.” It is interesting
to know their son, Owen’s story. Ron told the interviewer (and at home
audience) that his son was a perfectly normal baby, from birth until
age 3 years old. He became withdrawn and silent, all of a sudden, without
any known reason. No doctor or specialist can explain, but he was in
his own little ‘world.’
Ron and Cornelia found that he was soothed and comforted by watching
Disney animated children’s films. They were used to his silence and
did many things to enhance his life. Owen had nutritionists, therapists,
and strong emotional support. The physical and occupational therapy
lessons included giving him a sense of balance, sensory perception
and overall health. Speech therapy was not able to draw results with
his oral participation.
One day, Owen blurted out a complete thought while watching a movie.
His father, Ron, grabbed a puppet of Iago, using an ‘actor’s’ or
character’s voice, so as not to scare him and to keep him engaged
in talking. They had their first conversation ever!
Owen has helped his parents to understand that he learned how to
sound out words and read, by reading the credits at the end of the
films they showed him repeatedly. He mentions the ‘grips’ who are
the background people who help get the sound recorded.
Other lessons he learned were on how you should feel, live and act.
The characters that Owen related to the most were not the leading
‘heroes’ but their sidekicks.
Owen can imitate the sounds, accents and tones of voice of different
characters he would view in the films. His favorite one is that of
Merlin, when he is transformed into a fish, in “The Sword in the
Stone.” This film, Owen says, gives you the message to:
“Try new things in the world.”
Both Simba, (“Lion King”) as an adult and the Beast in “Beauty and
the Beast” taught Owen to:
“Be brave and overcome obstacles.”
Explaining the character, Aladdin, Owen expressed these thoughts:
“Aladdin wants to show he is more than a nobody. (Implying, as
a person with autism, who was silent for a long time, he felt
like a ‘nobody.’) Aladdin was a ‘diamond in the rough.’
Owen attends college and has a girlfriend now. He has opened
a “Disney Club” where the young adults watch Disney movies
and discuss their feelings, lessons learned and the ‘moral of
the stories.’ His parents observed Owen, recently, being the leader
of this college extracurricular activity, with tears in their eyes.
The CBS program, did record this and it is really wonderful to see
how confident Owen is in front of a classroom of his peers. The group
sometimes watch movies together, along with sing the Disney songs.
They feel welcome and part of their own group.
There is, by the way, a great documentary called, “Autism is a World,”
about a college student who liked to play with spoons and water, while
she was a child. This routine ‘reward’ was used to get her through her
studies and education. The real person, now an adult, is Sue Rubin.
This fascinating film includes footage of Sue inside a college classroom.
It was Oscar nominated, back in the early 2000’s.
Another interesting character, a real woman who created intricate ways
for cattle and livestock to travel through different patterns before they
got slaughtered is, Temple Grandin. She studied the way cows moved, from
childhood on. She is a person who would possibly be considered to have
Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a high level of intelligence but still a
person with Autism. If you see the movie, “Temple Grandin,”it is a very
moving story, leaving you with a profound respect for people who have
the courage to work with children who have this and those who have it, too.
There is a wonderful tribute to Temple’s mother. If you did not catch the
Oscars when Temple stood up to proudly show the world she was autistic, you
missed a great moment in time! Claire Danes gave an outstanding performance
as Temple and Julia Ormond did an awesome job as her mother.
Temple is also an author of several books and an engineer, besides being a
professor. Her incredible story should be encouraging to people who are
afraid their relative may not be able to succeed. Temple Grandin did,
despite her challenges as a person living with Autism.
was an educated scientist and professor of animal husbandry at Colorado
State University. Her mother’s perseverance and determination gave her
the keys to learning, using flash cards.
My teacher assistant, Maggie and I had prepared a wonderful place
for children and babies to come and be ‘tested’ by the therapy team
consisting of a Physical Therapist (and her PTA), an Occupational
Therapist, (and an OTA), a Speech Therapist and a Child Psychologist.
Once we did initial family and child assessments on Hunter, we had
recommended his coming with his parent or parents, to WRFCC.
The first names of the ones who I came to know and love were Phillip,
Savannah, Elijah, Leslie, among many…
It was only the beginning…