Category Archives: “the Spectrum”

A World Set Apart

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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

Autism.)

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

‘wrong.’

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

different location.

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

child.

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.

she

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…