Every Wednesday afternoon, I meet with an eclectic bunch of people to work as a group to create a spectacular, original, meaningful, annual musical production called the, "CTC Spring Concert". This is the weekly meeting of the CTC scriptwriters; a consortium of many different minds. We are a group of students of all ages and strengths, aides, teachers, and one determined administrator. I have been part of this process for as long as we have been producing this monster production and have been witness to its very impressive evolution.
We started, years ago, working with a group of adult staff to produce an original and meaningful production that showcased our students’ talents and strengths and gently allowed our students to challenge themselves to perform to an audience in a safe space. Singing (solos, duets, groups) dancing, acting, crazy stagecraft, awesome sets, costumes and props... it’s all there. Along with the production, the scripting process has also evolved.
Our first production was a spectacular success. So many audience members commented, “this would have been an unbelievable show for a typical school... we couldn’t believe it was a special needs school.” All our staff, and I mean all our staff... aides, teachers, administrators, secretaries, custodians, all the therapists (Related Services), the family support staff (SFSS), the nurses, and of course the students, are all in, and year after year we make it happen.
It is amazing how our students were able to enter and leave stage silently, speak/sing on cue, rehearse, wait, and rehearse, and wait, and wait again…. patiently and willingly. Many tears are shed backstage - not by students with stage fright, but by awed staff watching our kids do things we have never witnessed before. Because of our DIR® training, we know how incredible the effort is and how much focus our students must have for it all to come together. They make it look easy - it’s not... but… yes we can! If we can hold it all together for 10 minutes to perform and wait patiently (for sometimes hours to get on that stage), we can hold it together for other situations and tasks; success and experience to build on.
Now, our production, script, character development, music and story, are now completely student created, by the CTC script writers. This process takes the entire school year from September through the end of June. We, as a group, bring a lot to the table as it is. It is amazing and heartening as a teacher of every one of these students, to see them use prior knowledge and experience to create new scenarios and stories. These students are making symbolic connections in a new way and building on the ideas of others; strategies that are at the core of DIR principles. It is really wonderful to witness those “Ah Ha” moments that show that our gang is capable of creative synthesis on a very high symbolic level. We argue, compliment, complain, cheer on, disagree (strongly at times) and build together, on all our ideas to form the crazy, fun, entertaining spectacular that is the “CTC Spring Concert”. Don’t miss it!
Mary Beth Scheerer, Art Teacher, Celebrate the Children
September 2018 was the start of a wonderful endeavor by some of our high school students. Students, in conjunction with Related Services were given the opportunity to give back to the community by providing hand-bagged lunches for the homeless.
This project was started by educating students on the plight of the homeless, with the help from SFSS. This was an eye opening experience, ensuring that students were emotionally invested and not just going through the motions. After the students connected with the need, it was smooth sailing from there. They quickly moved into planning health conscious and economical meals, creating flyers to gather donations, purchasing supplies, and finally making the lunches.
Several months into the program they are still going strong and have even progressed to making lunches for a Women’s and Children’s shelter for those in crisis.
-Immy Moustafa, Related Services Department, Celebrate the Children
National Random Acts of Kindness Day will be celebrated on February 17th. This is a wonderful day to take time to show others your appreciation, or just show you care to random strangers. This is also a nice time to teach children about compassion for others without the expectation of receiving something in return. There are many ways to show your kindness:
It is always important to remember that the act itself is not what truly matters, but rather the intent behind the act. “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” (Aesop)
Happy National Random Acts of Kindness Day!
-Michelle Rehse, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
What's your opinion?
The Autism Puzzle Piece logo, which is associated with autism, is currently a controversial symbol and highly debated topic in the autism community.
Gerald Glasson, a parent member of the Executive Committee for the National Autistic Society, created this Autism Puzzle Piece in 1963. He chose a puzzle piece as a visual aid to illustrate the puzzling nature of autism.
However, some opposed it stating that the logo depicted those with autism as incomplete, irregular, challenging, and isolated. The controversy continued further when the puzzle piece was adopted by Autism Speaks.
Therefore, in 2017, researchers tested the general public’s reactions to being shown the Puzzle Piece logo, in relation to individuals with autism.
Their test revealed that more often than not, people reacted negatively when seeing the Puzzle Piece logo, confirming the sentiments of many autism advocates, that people associate puzzle pieces with things that are odd.
These results prompted Autism Advocates to think of alternate ideas for a new logo. Several were in favor of the Autism Pride rainbow-colored infinity logo, some advocated for a brain logo, while others rallied for the Puzzle Piece Ribbon illustrating the diversity of people on the spectrum and how we all come in different shapes and sizes. Since the vast majority could not agree on one specific logo the National Autism Awareness organization stuck with the blue logo to avoid any confusion.
Since the conversation still continues today regarding a new logo, what are your thoughts? Would you be open to a new design? Should the Puzzle Piece one be replaced or are you okay with it?
Personally, as a Special Education teacher and avid advocate for individuals on the spectrum, I am in favor of the Puzzle Piece Ribbon. I believe the pieces represent the many unique attributes that individuals on the Autism Spectrum possess. It is a logo I am proud to wear and display in support of the students I am privileged to teach every day.
-Debbie Castelluccio, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Reference Article: Puzzle Piece logo from Art Of Autism 2017
A good way to not succumb to the winter blues is to get outside of your home. There are a plethora of sensory friendly events in our state you can take advantage of during the cold months.
Studies have proven that there is a direct correlation between movement and brain activation, between physical activity and mood improvement and that play is necessary for optimal development.
As SFSS therapists, we are keenly conscious of the connection between emotions, energy levels, the quality/quantity of sleep and the ability to engage in the work we do with the students. We each try to be aware of our own mood variations and how intricately this is connected to how much we move. We often start our day by noting what our sense of ourselves is based on these general guidelines.
One of the most basic concepts we have discovered and try to reinforce is to find something that you like to do. Then start doing it even minimally. When it’s something you like to do, the chances of noticing the benefits emotionally, mentally and physically is almost immediately apparent.
When we think about our student’s sense of self, their confidence and sense of competency, we need to integrate the movement piece into whatever work we do. It’s ability to regulate the nervous system is clear; it’s ability to regulate our feelings, build self esteem, support better sleep and increase sustained engagement cannot be overlooked.
-Student and Family Support Services, Celebrate the Children
Our class has recently been engaging in Google Hangouts, which is a communication platform including messaging, video chat, and SMS features. The students have been able to enhance their communication and interaction skills by typing messages to each other. This helps level the playing field among our students with many different communication needs. They are having a fun time coming up with topics and responding to each other. We recommend using it across all appropriate levels, as it is a great communication tool.
-Paul Green, Young Adult Program Teacher, Celebrate the Children
We use the power of play to support emotional and social development. Play integrated into lessons provides children a fun and engaging way for a meaningful understanding of concepts. Play is an extremely powerful vehicle to help students navigate emotional themes and challenges. For example, our students became superheroes tackling being scared with the motto, “even superheroes get scared”. We face our fears by teaching our “superpowers” of problem solving! For each fear, we practiced how to work through the problem and how to cope with the feeling by using a superpower of coping skills like breathing, counting, etc. Next, we introduced our superpowers of “please and thank you” as we introduced the feeling of thankfulness. Our superheroes created thank you cards for our community helpers and for community based instruction, went to the police station to deliver their cards. Tapping into their Superhero Senses, mindfulness was also introduced on how to be present in the here and now using our senses. The children incorporated mindfulness by engaging in a mindful scavenger walk. Our CTC superheroes are just one example of how play engages our children and helps each student to integrate the social and emotional lessons into their repertoire.
-Celebrate the Children
At this time of year when teaching life science, it is fun to see the interest our students have in the workings of the human body. We study each system of the body and observe how all systems are integrated with one another. Our students enjoy learning about the body's processes and relating those processes to their own strengths and challenges. When a student can relate our lessons to their own experiences, it makes the knowledge that they take from the lesson so much more meaningful.
-Kelly Reilly, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Now that the weather is getting nice, students are more able to take advantage of playing outdoors! The benefits of outdoor play reach far beyond just enjoying the nice weather. Students can benefit physically, mentally and socially from spending time outdoors. Physically students can increase their muscle strength, coordination and flexibility. It will also help to improve body awareness, motor planning, endurance and motor skills. There are also many social benefits to outdoor play. Students can engage in symbolic play which in turn helps strengthen their social skills. It also helps them learn conflict resolution and collaborative play with peers, while greatly increasing their self-esteem. Students also benefit mentally. As they work out their "problems" in a fun, relaxed, play time situation, they are better able to handle them as they come up in other areas of their life. This leads to an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem. Outdoor play is good for everyone, not just students!! Spending time together outdoors as a family will have all of the above mentioned benefits, plus the added bonus of family time!!
-Amy Keveanos, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Ever find yourself in a power struggle with your child or one of your students? You’re not alone!
All human beings crave control, and kids (especially those with special needs) often don’t have a whole lot of control in their lives. They’re processing their worlds differently, in ways that can be overwhelming and scary at times. Their bodies may not allow them to motor plan the way they’d like. They may have challenges communicating and advocating for themselves. Not to mention, between school work and all their extra therapies, they spend a lot of time following directions and being told what to do.
This is one of the reasons we may see our kids refuse to do what we want at times, or even do the exact opposite! They are taking a stand and seeking a sense of CONTROL-- which after all is an important and basic human need. So how can we compromise and painlessly reach a common goal?
One easy trick that I’ve found to be super effective in my classroom is providing CHOICES! I find myself in way less power struggles when I hand over some of the control within my control.
For example, instead of saying “Write your name on your paper”, try asking “What color marker do you want to write with?”. Or when you’re at the park and it’s almost time to leave (and you know your child probably isn’t going to be happy), you could put the ball in their court by asking “How many more pushes do you want on the swing before we leave? 10 or 20?”
I’ve really seen it make all the difference with many of my students. It helps develop respect and trust between you and the child, while giving them a sense of control. It helps strengthen their sense of self and allows them to feel like an important and equal participant in their interactions.
I really urge you to try it (if you aren’t already). As with any change, it might be an adjustment at first, rethinking the way you talk to your child or student, but after a while it becomes second nature and you’ll realize you can rephrase almost anything in a way that provides the child with a CHOICE and sense of CONTROL.
-Nikki Squillante, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Contributions to this blog are made by Celebrate the Children's highly talented, interdisciplinary team and wonderful families.