Written by: Rachael Berringer, LAC, Student and Family Support Services, Celebrate the Children
Many learning environments today do not provide our neurodiverse children with opportunities to tap into their unique strengths, but rather unintentionally create barriers and obstacles for our students to learn and flourish. We are all uniquely wired and sometimes our children need a little extra help finding their gifts and tools to chanel them appropriately. It’s important that we stop pathologizing and looking for “cures” and start celebrating neurodiversity and the unique differences that make our children who they are. Shifting the way we think about our children’s innate characteristics may help us see the whole child and start to uncover unlocked potential, or “superpowers.”
Image from: Pexels
63% of the children that go to Celebrate the Children benefit from some form of AAC to improve their access to language. Some children use supports to help language and speech, while some rely completely on AAC to share all they know and think about the world. Our mission as a department is to help improve children’s efficiency in accessing language. The more we can do this, the more we honor their individuality.
To better achieve this goal, we will strive to bridge the school-home use of AAC. We want to provide more training opportunities to help families problem solve simple ways to bring AAC into their everyday life. On May 4, 2019, the Speech-Language department at Celebrate the Children held an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) training for our parents and caregivers, which was a great way to support families whose children use AAC throughout their day. This training highlighted making language fun. We started by collaboratively creating sentences with the child’s core page. We then played a game to come up with as many verbs to describe a situation. We ended with using comment words for a variety of images. Parents did not know where things were on the device. This forced the parent to slow down, the way their child slows down in order to navigate and motor plan the pages for their AAC system. We have to remind ourselves how quickly we talk and formulate our ideas. Errors are encouraged because it helps a child see to stick with it, and children like to see when adults make mistakes, because so much is hard for them. Modeling use of the device around simple activities honors your child’s need to use supports to be an active participant in their day and it normalizes an alternative way to express oneself.
Language is a social event. Sharing information one person to another in a pleasant way empowers people and makes people feel valued within their day-to-day interactions. This training was a social event that allowed us as a community of AAC supporters, to improve our comfort, share our child’s different language tools, normalize what we do, and share our own thoughts. It was so nice to give some practical ways to transition AAC to the home. We invite parents to ask for more training, so we as a community, can support each other in helping our children meet their maximum potential, and share all the awesomeness that makes them who they are.
The Speech-Language Therapy Team, Celebrate the Children
Here is a fun and sensory way to color eggs with your children/students for Easter/Spring. Forget messing with the store-bought kits—these eggs are the coolest. For best results, soak your eggs in vinegar for a minimum of 2 minutes so the color really clings to the egg shell. We prefer liquid food coloring to gel or powdered food coloring as it's easier to swirl in the cool whip. The best part is, this method uses all edible ingredients, so you can eat the eggs when you're done displaying them!
Prep time: 15 mins
Total time: 35 mins
Directions: Place eggs in a large bowl and cover with white vinegar. Soak for 2 minutes, drain and dry the eggs thoroughly. On a large plate or small baking sheet, spread your whipped topping in an even layer about 1/2” deep. Drop food color in single drops about an inch apart, in as many colors as you choose. Use a toothpick to swirl the colors to a marbled effect. Roll eggs in whipped cream and let sit 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from whipped cream (you may want to use latex gloves to avoid staining hands) and rinse until no whipped topping remains. Let dry completely on a paper towel and display.
Here is the link to watch a video of how to do this process. Https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a19446386/cool-whip-easter-eggs-recipe/
Transition Department, Celebrate the Children
In the Young Adult Program, we strive to maximize student's potential and ensure that students of all abilities are equipped to meet the challenges of education, work and life. Our internships are constantly evolving and becoming more complex as students rise to the challenges that they are presented with. One of these examples is the Hospitality internship. In January of this year, the Young Adult Program opened up the Cast Iron Cafe, a gourmet brunch delivery business. I do not use the term "gourmet" lightly. Our very first dish was a Mediterranean inspired toast platter with avocado, ezekiel bread, poached egg, sundried tomato and feta served with rosemary, garlic and parmesan crusted smashed potatoes. Our most well-received preparation was a European breakfast that included dark bread, jam, fruit, gourmet cheeses, organic turkey and ham, organic hard-boiled eggs, and yogurt with homemade gluten-free cranberry granola. We want to exceed the expectations of what a school internship can produce.
The students are involved in every aspect of the business. They research recipes, write the food description used on our restaurant website, prep ingredients, cook the food, stage the plating area, artistically plate the food, deliver meals and iced coffee, collect money, and retrieve our reusable utensils and dishware (encourage sustainability!). As the students continue to familiarize themselves, and eventually master, each aspect of the business, we want to keep challenging them and demonstrate just how much potential they have. Our next goal is to involve them in designing and updating our website and companion ordering app.
The self-esteem that comes from the students presenting such professional and impressive meals is very real. Everyone, without exception, raves when they see the gorgeous meals the students present and, of course, it's the young adults who get all those kudos in real time!
Young Adult Program, Celebrate the Children
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
Contributions to this blog are made by Celebrate the Children's highly talented, interdisciplinary team and wonderful families.