Yes we did it! With a Me to We approach!

It was a long relenting cold winter  in 2014 but in spite of the challenging driving conditions we managed to launch the Creative Art Adventures Club in the middle of winter with 4 families participating. The children came with their parent or their support worker who participated with them throughout the experience, sharing the storytelling, clay modelling, drawing, and painting.
A wonderful volunteer, Lea D. stepped in wherever a helping hand was needed; with registration, setting up the space, or surprising us with a beautiful colorful banner to hang up in the hall.
When the spring finally came, ‘me’ became a ‘we’ as 2 student volunteers joined us, Jasmine and Gabrielle, from Rosseau Lake College, as well as Nicolas from B.M.L.S.S. who assisted with many aspects of setting up the room and providing a gentle pillar of support for the small boys. Hooray we did it!

Portrait-LeaDLea Dooley

 

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'No Pressure Learning' by Jenny Lockwood

Caroline’s Commentary: Here is another approach to teaching children with autism without pressure from Jenny Lockwood from the New Trails School in Texas.

As I haven’t written anything for this blog for a while I thought I would start by reintroducing myself. My name is Jenny Lockwood and I am the education director of an organization called The Horse Boy Foundation. The Horse Boy Foundation was founded by Rupert Isaacson, an autism dad, whose son Rowan learned to communicate on the back of a horse. The book and movie of this story, both entitled ‘The Horse Boy’, are readily available on Netflix and Amazon. Rupert began inviting other autism families out to spend time with his horses and soon discovered that what worked for Rowan seemed to work for other kids on the spectrum as well. We now work with children all over the world and train other horse practitioners in the methods that Rupert discovered. We also train parents, teachers and schools to work more effectively with children with autism in the home or classroom by setting up an autism friendly environment (preferably outside in nature), allowing the child to move and tailoring everything to the child’s passions and interests.

One of the cornerstones of our method is to never put pressure on a child. Research shows that if a person feels under too much pressure this can cause stress and the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released by the amygdala in response to threat and it causes one of three reactions in the body: flight, fight or freeze. Children on the autism spectrum have an overactive amygdala which means that their bodies are often flooded with cortisol in response to seemingly benign situations that they have identified as a threat. It therefore follows suit that children with autism are also much more likely to produce cortisol when under pressure and it is this that causes them to shut down in response to that pressure. Exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

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Part 2 of No Pressure Learning coming…
To find out more please visit our website at www.horseboyworld.com or email jenny@horseboyworld.com.

'The Autism Project' in the Toronto Star this week November 10 – 18th

Caroline’s commentary:

This week The Toronto Star publishes a series of articles called ‘The Autism Project” which you can read online at www.thestar.com

American research now shows 1 in 88 children — 1 in 54 boys — is diagnosed with autism. The rising numbers mean it is impossible for teachers to go their entire career without autistic children in the class.

Five years ago, 7,000 Ontario public schoolchildren were identified as autistic. Today, that number has more than doubled. The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest, estimates 1 in 88, or close to 3,000, is on the autism spectrum. The Durham District School Board puts their number at 1 in 75.

Canadian children, on average, are not diagnosed until age 4, after many have already started school. That means the majority of those kids will still not have received therapy.

Yet there is no mandatory teacher training in autism, or special education for regular classroom teachers. Teachers can take an elective course in university, or take extra courses once they start their careers, but they pay for those and take them on their own time.

Isabel Killoran, a professor at York University’s Faculty of Education and former special education teacher, says a teacher’s greatest challenge is that “no two children with autism are the same.”

She teaches a 36-hour course in special education, helping teachers learn common strategies that can help in class, depending on the child’s needs.

Children with autism think and learn differently. They need organization and structure, lessons in social skills and how to manage stress; they don’t tolerate a lot of noise and distractions.

Killoran’s big message though: behaviour is communication.

“It’s our job to be detective and figure out what’s triggering the behaviour. A lot of time it is something that’s environmental, something happening in the classroom.”

All school boards have an autism resource team — special education teachers, psychologists, speech language pathologists — to provide support to schools, but even school officials recognize it isn’t enough.

The Durham board launched its own autism training centre for teachers. It instructs them in how to set up a classroom to minimize distraction, how to use visual schedules so children with autism know what to expect, and how to anticipate an autistic child’s unruly behaviour. The program already has a waiting list.

Says Doug Crichton, the board’s superintendent of special education: “We’re working on the premise that in almost every classroom, certainly in every school, we’re going to have children with autism.” Continue reading “'The Autism Project' in the Toronto Star this week November 10 – 18th”

Making Learning Fun for Teaching Children with Autism is Key

Caroline’s Commentary:

Here is some great practical advice from a father of a girl with Autism, Henry Bee.

1.  Set up a safe learning space or ‘Therapy Room’

2.  Enter their world

3.  One on one learning sessions

4.  Interactive Computer based aids

5.  Do things children love doing with them

How do you make learning fun for your child or student?  Please share or comment below.

 

The Five Best Teaching Aids for Children With Autism and Special Needs by Henry Bee

We have had over ten years experience with tutoring and teaching our daughter with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Below is some of the Teaching Aids we used that we think were the most successful in her development and learning. These methods can be used with any child with or without an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Pervasive Development Disorder or Special Needs.

Teaching Aid 1 – Setting up a Therapy Room
In the beginning what got us going was the SON RISE program. Liz went to America to the Option Institute and did a two week course on how to cope with a child with Autism, methods for working with and tutoring a child with Autism and how to set up a therapy room for a tutoring a child with Autism and or Special Needs.

The course is not just for Parents of children with Autism, but also for children with Learning Difficulties, Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) and children with Special Needs in general. The course also focusses a great deal on how to deal on an emotional level with the fact that your child has an intellectual disability, and there is ongoing support if you so wish.

So on Liz’s arrival back home we set up a therapy room. We used a spare bedroom and painted it in bright colours. We set it up with shelves and storage drawers, play equipment, a computer and printer, a suitable child’s height table and chairs for table top work and a sturdy floor covering. The basic idea was to have a room the child can identify with as a learning and fun area only, somewhere that they will in time know that when they are in there it is time to learn. Continue reading “Making Learning Fun for Teaching Children with Autism is Key”

'The Power of Video Games' by Jenny Lockwood

Caroline’s Commentary:

Video games are popular with children and you can use this interest to help make learning more fun.  In this article, ‘The Power of Video Games’, Jenny Lockwood describes how Rowan first got interested in video games and as a result these games enhanced both his learning experience and his social interactions with other children as well as with his teacher, Jenny.

‘The Power of Video Games’ by Jenny Lockwood (about The Horse Boy Method)

A little over a year ago Rowan and I visited Cabela’s for the first time, (an outdoor shop that has an impressive display of taxidermy)  and it was here that he discovered and fell in love with their ‘Big Buck Hunting Game’. Over the weeks and months since, we have gradually noticed his hand eye coordination improve as he learnt to navigate a relatively complex game that involves aiming, firing and reloading a plastic gun in quick succession. He is now at the stage where he very rarely misses a shot and is regularly awarded the prestigious honor of ‘hunter hero’.

However it wasn’t until eight weeks ago that Rowan discovered the world of video games outside of Cabela’s. Whilst his friend Tashka was visiting from Australia, he met and fell in love with Mario, Yoshi and their friends when she was kind enough to let him play Super Mario Brothers on her Nintendo DS. He was soon hooked and became even more so when a few weeks later he discovered the Nintendo Wii and Mario Kart.

In the two months since we have noticed many changes in Rowan, both in terms of his cognitive and social skills. Since September Rowan has been attending a nearby school one day a week and soon after getting his own Nintendo DS we asked whether it would be possible for him to bring it with him to the school. It wasn’t long before he was discussing the best way to defeat the various enemies that these games involve with the other kids and generally interacting with them in a way we had not seen prior to this.

It was at this point that we asked ourselves whether we could use his love of these games in order to help him learn. As is often the case with Rowan he himself showed us how to do this by inventing a new game which involved him as Mario and me as Yoshi adventuring together in order to collect ‘power stars’ which we could then take to the ‘Luma Shop’ and use to buy any item that we desired as long as we had enough stars.

It was then we realized that not only do these games encourage turn taking, perspective taking and an understanding of rules and their consequences but they also require a relatively complex understanding of math. For example collecting the appropriate number of power stars can incorporate addition and subtraction and using them to buy various items in a shop is a good way to model money. In fact if you use your imagination it is possible to introduce any number of topics (speed, distance, space, gravity to name but a few) using these games. We therefore encourage all parents of children on the spectrum, and in fact all parents in general, to not resist these games but instead use their child’s interest in them to help them learn in fun and intrinsically motivating ways.

 

'The world needs all kinds of minds' Temple Grandin talks at TED Conference

Caroline’s commentary:

I watched the movie ‘Temple Grandin’ again over the Christmas holiday.  If you have not seen it yet, you must watch it.  Here is a talk Dr. Grandin gave at a TED Conference just after the release of the movie about her life, where she emphasizes the world needs all different kinds of minds: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers and verbal thinkers.   She also stresses the importance of mentors as teachers in high schools and one on one tutoring for autistic children under 5.  “You’ve got to show student’s interesting stuff to learn,” says Temple.

Here at the Tree of Life Centre for Creativity, in the Creative Art Adventures program, the student’s learn about all sorts of subjects:  natural life cycles, weather patterns, insects, all kinds of animals, geography, the 4 elements, air, fire, water, earth, and how we humans are connected to all the elements and to all life.  We teach all subjects through painting, drawing, clay modelling, music and storytelling.  The children are encouraged to follow whatever interests them, in this way the learning experience is exciting and fun for everyone.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn_9f5x0f1Q

'The Horse Boy Story & Method' by Jenny Lockwood

Caroline’s Commentary:

Here is an overview of The Horse Boy Story and Method by Rowan’s  teacher,  Jenny Lockwood.  I highly recommend both the documentary film and the book ‘The Horse Boy’ as well as the Horse Boy Method of teaching academics which will be posted next month, mid December.  Even if you do not have access to horses, the Horse Boy Method can be utilized for teaching children on the autism spectrum.  It is even possible for an autistic child to draw or paint on a horse!

Rupert Isaacson, a lifelong horse fanatic, was devastated when his 2 year old son Rowan was diagnosed with autism. Gone were his dreams of one day sharing his passion of horses with his son…or so he thought. Rowan seemed unreachable, however, whenever his dad took him into the woods behind their house, his tantrums and stimmings seemed to calm down. One day, Rowan ran away from his dad and got through the fence into their neighbor’s property and in amongst his horse herd. Rupert had been keeping his son away from horses – thinking him unsafe around them. However, that day he witnessed something extraordinary. Instead of trampling this squirming, babbling little child lying on his back among their hooves, the horses backed off gently. Then the boss of the herd, a mare called Betsy, came over and began to lower her head in front of Rowan, to lick and chew with her lips. This is the sign of equine submission. Rupert, Rowan’s dad, had never seen a horse voluntarily make this submission gesture to a human being before. Clearly something was passing between the horse and the little boy so Isaacson talked to his neighbor Stafford, who owned Besty, and got the key to his saddle room.

For three years father and son rode every day through the woods and fields of Central Texas and – first through Betsy, then spontaneously, Rowan began to talk, to engage with his environment and other people. In 2007 Rowan, his dad, and mother – Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas – took a journey across Mongolia on horseback, going from traditional healer to traditional healer, shaman to shaman, looking for healing. They went out with a child still tantrumming, still un-toilet trained, and cut off from other children. They came back with a child no longer tantruming, toilet trained and able to make friends. Rupert wrote a book about his family’s adventure, and also produced a film which documented the trip. Both are titled ‘The Horse Boy’

After returning from Mongolia, the Isaacson family started the Horse Boy Foundation to help make horses and nature available to other children, autistic or not, who might not otherwise have access to them. Over approximately seven years of working with autistic children and horses Rupert stumbled upon a number of techniques that seemed to bring about better verbal communication with his son. Soon after Rowan’s success Rupert began working with other local children on the spectrum to see if what had worked with Rowan and Betsy would also work for them. After a couple more years Rupert realized that he had a system of techniques in place that targeted different types of autism spectrum challenges. Since 2009 he has been working internationally with the Horse Boy Method™ at camps and centers in North America and Europe.

Continue reading “'The Horse Boy Story & Method' by Jenny Lockwood”