Friday, 20 January 2012
Hi everyone! First, I just want to thank everyone who took the time out of their busy lives to read my blog. I hope that answers some of your questions about how I got involved with Autism. To be clear, no, I do not have any personal connection to Autism, it is simply a passion. I have lots of exciting things to tell you! First, I went to an amazing school today called Celebrate The Children today in Dover, NJ (more to come below), it was an amazing day and I met some incredible kids! Second, I received an awesome package today- it was a book titled "Inside Out - Stories and Poems From an Autistic Mind" by Russell Lehmann. I am really excited to read it and let you know what I think! Third, I got a wonderful email from an inspirational person named Anthony, an adult with Autism, who wanted to share his blogs with me. He writes two incredible blogs that you NEED to check out!!
His personal blog is about his experience growing up with Autism, and his second blog is a very detailed sports blog! These are so worth checking out. Find him on twitter, @AutisticAJ his blogs are great! Sooo...
A few weeks ago I was contacted by a school for Autism here in NJ called Celebrate The Children (www.ctcschool.org) and they asked me to come for a tour and meet their students. CTC is a not-for-profit private school located in Wharton & Dover (two buildings) and they are a NJ state approved school specializing in working with children who have alternative learning styles. The school was opened in 2004 with only three students- now they have over 100! CTC is praised for their use of the DIR(r) model, which is part of each service the school offers and is the core model of each facet of their educational and professional models. If you are unfamiliar with this, check out:
I arrived at 10:30am and was greeted by lots of smiling children, the nicest staff, and the most colorful walls you've ever seen. Each classroom had made big "Welcome Brielle" signs for me and they even wrote down questions for me prior to my arrival! The school was incredible- the classrooms are huge, the building has three levels, and it was full of happy kids and staff- and I mean legitimately happy. In one of the first classrooms I visited the students were learning Geometry, and they were using Pi in a bunch of equations (Math is NOT my strong suit, I probably should have stayed for the class). I was so impressed by the student participation! I'm sure many of you are thinking "oh, probably a high functioning class"...but would you believe me if I said MANY of the kids in that room were nonverbal? In my experience, when kids are nonverbal suddenly their abilities are overlooked and things like Geometry are not even attempted with them. This doesn't happen at CTC, they really take the time to figure out what each child is capable of, AND what each child has an interest in! Every student can choose to take some classes that they have an interest in like cake decorating or photography! I have never seen or heard of a school like this, the schools I have worked in have been pretty strict ABA with quiet hallways and classrooms with very standard activities, so CTC was a whole new experience for me! It was clear that the students truly enjoyed being there.
In another classroom we played some of the games from the game show "Minute to Win It" and the kids were awesome at it- it helps them learn problem solving and fine motor skills as well (like balancing 5 giant water jugs on top of one another or bouncing pencils into a cup). It was so much fun, and they really enjoyed the games too! In another classroom the teacher asked students to group themselves based on common answers- everyone who ate the same breakfast gets into little groups, etc. It was truly amazing to see these kids socialize with each other and get into groups on their own. Again, these students are across the spectrum, this is not just high functioning kids, and like I said many are nonverbal. It was fascinating to watch. Many of them have iPads which they use to type what they want to communicate and an aid will read aloud what it says. One of the students was completely nonverbal, and once he got an iPad he typed "thank you so much for helping me." Can you imagine being there when that happened? Wondering all along if he understood you, and then one day knowing for sure he has understood perfectly and is grateful for your time? Individuals with Autism are often so misunderstood and their talents are skills often go unnoticed. Many people assume that if a child is nonverbal, he/she must not have a clue what's going on- not true at all. Even if they cannot speak, many of them know EXACTLY what is going on around them, do not underestimate them! These kids are WAY smarter than society gives them credit for.
Then it was lunch time! The school has it's own school store and occasionally they cook in there as well- today they made tacos which is in my top 5 favorite foods, so I was ecstatic! All the students eat together in one room, and when they finish their lunch they are free to socialize or do something they enjoy. While I finished eating, an adorable boy was rocking out on his bass guitar on the stage (he was really good), one was swinging on a swing, and others were talking to each other! It was so awesome to see kids do what THEY wanted to do instead of following direction after direction. I have been to a LOT of schools, and I am telling you, I have never seen a school for Autism filled with so many smiling faces.
We took one more trip to Wharton where the little kids go to school- so cute! They were making Powerpoint presentations on Mac computers, practicing math, and doing arts and crafts. I was so impressed! Both buildings were so colorful and cheery, it was such a warm atmosphere. So that was my day! They gave me an awesome shirt, water bottle, and a handmade plate for me too!
CTC has children from across the country, and even a few from other countries. If you are looking for a different school and want something that isn't strict ABA, I strongly suggest you check this school out. They cater to each child, and RESPECT each child there. Take a tour, and you will see exactly what I mean. Time magazine even did a very impressive article on this school! I was inspired by what they are doing with these students. Oh I forgot to mention! The older ones (17 years old) had jobs, real jobs not just busy work! This school truly has it all.
Thank you for checking out my blog and I hope I gave you something new to think about!!