Autism affects social and communication skills, with symptoms appearing within the first three years of life, ranging the gamut from extreme to mild. Asperger’s Disorder is a milder form of autism, often referred to as “high-functioning autism”. A neighbor of mine in Colorado has a son with more severe symptoms. She’d describe her son having moments of logical and productive communication, and other times, he’d “check out” to be “in his own world.” There are no conclusive causes for this complex developmental disability which generates great controversy, and spurs many research studies leaving the medical community with more questions than answers.
In observing our Wendell Foster’s Campus – Kelly Autism Program (WFC-KAP), I became more intrigued by autism. WFC-KAP offers an after-school program for children diagnosed with autism; a safe and nurturing environment to learn socialization skills and management skills of their sensory challenges within a social setting. A few students appeared to be typical teenagers, leaving me to wonder why they were even in the program. With further observation, I recognized the subtleties of the social and communication challenges. Another student would become mildly disruptive, repeating a statement, then talking gibberish. I watched WFC-KAP staff redirect this young man with patience and consistency, shifting him out of his sensory disconnection to focus on the class discussion at hand. I later learned that upon first entering the program the previous year this child did not communicate at all, and remained withdrawn; what I observed was actually progress. I was impressed by our staff’s ability to understand the sensory complexities and what tools a child needs to calm his or her “sensory challenges.” Redirection is the main technique with consistency being the key in behavior modification. Repetition supports the shifts in the behavior. It’s like when we start a new habit - we do it twenty-one times before it sticks in our brain to do it regularly, without thinking about it. WFC-KAP staff explained it takes children diagnosed with autism approximately 214 repetitions before the new behavior “clicks and sticks” in their brain.
Meet Beau, a “clicks and sticks” success. After a confirmed diagnosis of autism at the age of five, his family began early intervention: behavioral and diagnostic therapies outside of Owensboro; traditional speech and occupational therapy to address developmental delays, and; instruction he received at his elementary school. After hearing about Wendell Foster’s KAP program at a fundraising event, and one family’s success with it, Beau’s parents enrolled him. According to his mom, blogger and author Jaime Rafferty, “WFC-KAP offered Beau a place to go where he was ‘normal’.” Three years after enrolling Beau, his parents talk about the remarkable improvements of his social and behavioral skills, noting behavioral problems in social and academic settings have dramatically dropped. Beau has learned how to be a friend, how to help with chores around the house, and proper etiquette in public, for example, when ordering from a menu or dining at a restaurant. Despite his initial adversity to extracurricular activities, Beau looks forward to seeing his "KAP" friends. According to his mom, “Beau’s participation in the Kelly Autism Program has awakened untapped possibilities.”
You have to wonder if the folks at Mercer County’s Intermediate School understand how to work with a child diagnosed with autism, or the nature of this complex developmental disability. Their effort to admittedly “punish” the child rather than take the time to redirect his inappropriate behavior with effective behavioral modification techniques begs the question about teacher training: Are teachers properly trained to work with children with developmental disabilities? Are they sensitive to the uniqueness of these children’s special needs?
Unfortunately, Mercer County wouldn’t be the only Kentucky school with staff serving children with special needs in need of awareness and sensitivity training, as demonstrated through a Facebook exchange prior to the child bagging incident.
In the Next Blog Entry: A Facebook Folly - “She commented how one of her kids screams all day and she thinks about taking him for a “for a long walk off a short pier!”
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