AMC’s sensory friendly films provides a sensory friendly atmosphere to allow the whole family a chance to enjoy current movies. One time per month participating theaters show a film with the lights turned up and the sound turned down. Singing and dancing during the movie is also encouraged. This month’s movie: Gnomeo & Juliet will be playing on Saturday February 12, 2011.
Javamo coffee’s Art for Autism foundation partners with Mercedes Benz of Tampa Bay to open the Artistas Cafe. Artistas Cafe is a coffee shop located inside the Mercedes dealership in Tampa, Florida. Similar to other local coffee shops they serve cappuccino’s, latte’s, mocha’s, tea’s and cocoas. The main difference between Artistas and the other local coffee establishments - the employees or “artista’s” (as they are called) are young adults with Autsm. Artistas cafe currently employs four coffee artista’s, who are responsible for greeting customers, taking orders, preparing drinks for customers, and handling payments. “Working in the Artistas Café is a great way for people on the autism spectrum to gain on–the-job training and to learn and practice social skills,” said Art for Autism’s founder Vicky Westra. Frank Cuteri, general manager of Mercedes Benz of Tampa, orginally considered opening a Starbucks inside the dealership, but changed his mind when approached by Javamo coffee and the Art for Autism foundation, and he saw an opportunity to give back to the community. Everyone involved hopes that this partnership will allow the community and other businesses to better understand the contribution that people with Autism and other developmental disabilities can make to the community and to businesses.
Imagine being dropped into a foreign land with no understanding of what your supposed to be doing or what might happen next, and no ability to communicate with the people you encounter so that you can get the information you need. How would you feel if everything was a surprise and you couldn’t ask questions to gain additional information about what was happening? No doubt that this would be a source of anxiety for many of us. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many students with autism who do not have access to a schedule at school. It is our belief that most students with autism should not only have access to a daily schedule, but should be specifically taught to how to independently and effectively use this essential life skill.
Simply put, visual schedules (see examples below) are tools designed to help individuals with autism organize their day that can be used in special education classrooms, general education classrooms, and at home and in community settings. In an educational setting, visual schedules allow students to understand not only the structure of their day, but also what activities will and will not be occurring, where they should be and at what time, and what changes in their routine will occur.
Additional benefits of visual schedules include:
- Simplified/ smoother transitions
- Increased independence throughout the school day
- Reduction of prompt dependency
- Reduction in student anxiety
- Increased understanding of sequencing concepts
- Taps into visual processing strengths
- Avoids some auditory processing pitfalls
Another great feature of visual schedules, is that they are essentially a modified presentation of the schedules that most adults use everyday. We may not call them a visual schedule, instead preferring terms such as calendar, agenda, planner, etc., but many of us rely on them to help as manage our daily lives. So not only are visual schedules easy to create and effective, they are a widely socially accepted support mechanism.
Visual schedules can be created from a wide range of materials and cater to diverse levels of student understanding. Objects (whole, partial, or representational), digital pictures, symbols and text can all be incorporated into visual schedules, based on individual student need. Schedules utilizing pictures or symbols can be laminated for durability. Visual schedules can be presented using a variety of formats that can range from “check-in” systems in which the student physically moves a representational object, picture or symbol from a designated location (in a binder or on a velcro strip) to a corresponding “check-in” space, to simply having the student write out their schedule in a notebook (in list format) that they can check off as they complete each activity.
Visual schedules should include:
- Objects/ pictures/ symbols/ text at student’s level of understanding
- Daily activities listed in sequence
- System for delineating which activities are finished and which remain
- Special notation of changes in typical routines or to bring attention to special activities
One key point that we feel must be made during any discussion about visual schedules, is that it is of the utmost importance that the use of visual schedules should not be frivolously discontinued. It is not unusual for staff to disregard a student’s need for their visual schedule because they feel like the student “knows the routine” and no longer “needs” it, but it is critical for staff to remember, this is the student’s “daily planner” and it’s removal can have undesirable effects for students. Have doubts? Just think about how you feel when you can’t locate your agenda or your data disappeared from your smart phone.
Situation — As parents, you want to know what your child does at school all day (and not just about their behavior). Unfortunately, due to the number of students in many classrooms, school staff do not always have time to provide each parent with a detailed summary of their child’s school day. In turn, school staff would like to know what the child did while at home to use during activities in the classroom (i.e., writing, communication, answering questions, etc.), but don’t know the best/easiest way to get this information. Many times, the result is that both parties (parents and teachers) end up frustrated and feeling like the other should better understand their position and be a more effective communicator.
Solution — Create a “home and school” communication page (can be laminated, for reusability) that can be completed daily by the student prior to dismissal (assistance should be provided as necessary). This communication page can be created in a specific program, such as Boardmaker, or can just as easily be created using clip art or digital photos for students who benefit from use of pictures. For students who understand written words, the communication page can be created using written or typed words. The goal is to have the student fill in the appropriate pictures or words based on the activities they did during the school day. Once the student arrives home, they can use the visual cues to answer the question “What did you do today?”. On the other side of page, you can create a communication page geared towards Home to School communication (talk with the parents and help provide them with the words/pictures they can use initially) that can be completed by the student at night before they go to bed. This allows the student to answer the question, “What did you do last night/this weekend?”. Extra pictures/words for each page can be stored in Ziploc bag with the students name on it. In my experience, this format has been successful as it allows the student to review their day/night and gives them a way to tell their parents/teachers about their activities of the day/night
Ultimately, the creation of a “school to home” and “home to school” communication system has multiple benefits. It allows parents/caregivers to receive information about their child’s day that extends beyond a behavior report and provides school staff with additional information about what type of activities the student engages in when he/she is at home. In addition to the benefits for both the parent and teacher, this type of system also creates additional communication opportunities for the student in both the home and school settings.
Happy Holidays to all! I received an email today detailing an exciting event in my community and wanted to pass along the information. Westshore Mall, located in Tampa, Florida is offering a “Sensitive Santa” event for families of children with Autism and related disabilities. This exciting, sensory friendly event will take place on Sunday December 5, 2010 from 8:00am to 10:oo am. Sensory friendly adjustments will include lower lighting and quieter surroundings, since most stores in the mall will not yet be open. Each family that attends will recieve a complimentary photo of Santa and will be eligible for festive giveaways to commemorate the season. Parents that have heard about this even have expressed excitement about being able to “go and see Santa without the experience being too overwhelming.” For more information contact Kristy Genna.
It is important to realize that even though these abilities and this independence appear to be a strength for the child, it is actually a strategy that some kids may develop to avoid the more difficult task of communication.
Speech Language Pathologists know that the best time to build/encourage communication skills (initiation and follow through) is when the activity/item that the child wants in highly motivating to them and when the communication interaction is integrated into the activities of the day.
With this in mind I recommend to the parents that they create situations throughout the day that encourage their children to communicate. I first work with parents to take pictures or use symbol programs to create a method (communication board/book, picture choice system) for the kids to use to communicate (both verbal and non verbal children). Then we discuss ways to “set-up” situations at home that will lead to the need for communication. Ideas include: moving the juice/milk to a higher shelf in the back of the refrigerator, placing the desired computer games in a place the child cannot reach or otherwise disconnecting the computer from the network, or moving the DVD’s or the remote to a place where the child cannot reach it independently.
Just remember that although it is important to encourage and build independence in our kids with autism it is equally as important to help kids realize the power of communication.
US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a community-based soccer program started in 1991 to provide kids (ages 5-18) with developmental and physical disabilities an opportunity to play soccer. During my involvement in my local TOPS program I have seen players move from initially crying during the whole practice and game to running and kicking the ball into the goal independently (third game of the season).
To find your local organization that is currently participating in the TOPSoccer program please check out the US Youth Soccer Association website. To make things easier, below are the regional websites:
- Region 1: Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia
- Region 2: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio South, Ohio North, South Dakota, Wisconsin. Regional Contact: Jim Robson – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Region 3: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas North and Texas South.
- Region 4: Alaska, Arizona, California North, California South, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Check out the TOPSoccer video below: