Category Archives: Access Programs

How to Start Listening Better!

We’re back with another video tip – and this week, we’re starting a 4-part series on listening and conversation.

Check out how to start listening better. Hint: Stop thinking about dinner. =)

Acclaimed Autism Art Exhibit Moves to Steele Group

The exhibit Layers: An Exhibit of Artwork from Artists on the Spectrum, will move to The Steele Group Architects beginning May 6th, as part of First Fridays Gallery Hop. The exhibition will be on view through the month of June. Throughout the month of April, the exhibit of artwork by children from ABC of NC, a Winston-Salem based provider of autism services, was on display at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts (SECCA) in celebration of Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month.

The exhibit features mixed-media artwork created by children (ages two to 21) with autism, under the guidance of artist-in residence, K. Wood. The exhibition also features work created by ABC of NC students as part of a partnership with SECCA and The Engaging Educator. The project was made possible, in part, through a Community Enrichment Mini-Grant from The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

“The process we used to craft the artwork for the exhibit incorporated multiple techniques and a variety of layers to create pieces that had depth and interest,” remarked artist in residence K. Wood. “Many individuals with autism can be over-stimulated by sensory input, so it was important that the process be sensitive to these challenges. So we encouraged the kids to use their fingers or take advantage of a variety of gadgets and tools, from cotton swabs and saran wrap to paint brushes and rollers.”

When speaking about the collaboration, The Engaging Educator Founder and Artistic Director Jen Brown reflected on what she considers to be the biggest success of the program, “Many museums have a ‘be quiet and admire the art’ reverence which can create anxiousness even among typically developing children. It was important to all of us working on the project that our friends with autism feel at ease and be able to make connections between the art they see in the museum and their everyday lives.”

Brown, alongside SECCA program coordinator Alex Brown, helped prepare the children for their visit to the museum with a social story and pre-visits, and once they were on-site, SECCA offered an assortment of touch-friendly objects for exploration, coordinated museum walks, and incorporated multi-model engagement strategies– moving like butterflies, posing like sea creatures, imagining textures–to view the art.

“For many families of children with autism, the world can feel pretty small. Most wouldn’t consider a modern art museum an option for a family outing,” said Casey Raymer,

director of development for ABC of NC. “Making the broader community more accessible
for the children and families we serve has long been a goal of ABC of NC and we’ve
been thrilled to find so many community partners willing to help us in this endeavor.”

“Through this collaboration we created opportunities for artistic expression, cultivated experiences that helped our friends with autism understand how to interact with art in a museum environment, and established SECCA as a place where they can feel comfortable being themselves,” said Connie Schroeder, director of development for SECCA. “And really, isn’t that the experience we want everyone to have in a museum environment?”

ABC of NC and Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts (SECCA) hosted a reception commemorating on Thursday, April 28 from 5:30-8pm at SECCA.

About ABC of NC — ABC of NC Child Development Center is a not-for-profit center dedicated to providing high-quality, evidence-based diagnostic, therapeutic, and educational services to people with autism spectrum disorder; ensuring service accessibility to individuals from any economic background; offering support and hope to families; and advocating for inclusion and acceptance. The vision of ABC of NC is that all people living with autism spectrum disorder reach their full potential in a world where they are valued, accepted, and included.

About Autism — Autism spectrum disorder (ASD/autism) is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. Autism is characterized in varying degrees, including difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors. According to the CDC, one in 68 children born today will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and prevalence rates are even higher in North Carolina with an estimated one in 58 children, and one in 35 boys, receiving the diagnosis.

Social Story: Our trip to SECCA!

Social stories were created in 1991 by Carol Gray to help teach social skills to people with autism. They are short, concise and specific descriptions of events and activities that include information about what to expect in a given situation.

Through a Pre Visit Pilot Program, SECCA and The Engaging Educator visited ABC to familiarize the students with what they would see and do on the museum visit. Through photos of the building and art, modeling a ‘museum walk’ and touch objects that would be present at the museum, students learned about expectations for the visit. ABC then printed copies of the social story for teachers to continue to go over in class, as well as hand held versions for the trip itself.

Reflections from Jen: “I think the biggest success is the level of comfort achieved in the students in a contemporary art museum. While SECCA is a welcoming space, many museums have a “be quiet and admire the art” reverence. Through our previsits as well as the visits, Alex and I have seen a marked change in the students, both with their comfort with us as well as the museum. From initial outward anxiety in the kids to several of them finding connections in their every day lives, their comfort around art and in the museum was fast and marked. Through showing objects that were touch friendly to practicing a “Museum Walk” and doing multi-model engagement strategies to view the art (ex: moving like butterflies, posing like sea creatures, imagining textures) the students successfully had visits that helped them understand how to interact with art in the museum in a safe way, and established SECCA as a place they could be comfortable (and be themselves) in. Examples: Harry connecting with an Untitled work by Sterling Allen containing a slide projector, likening it to Veggie Tales, Andrew asking to go back into the galleries and walk around after lunch, Connor showing Jen the changes of weather on the iPads, Cleo showing Jen and Alex her book in the Overlook Gallery.”

Former student crowned Miss Amazing NY 2016!

MISS AMAZING NY QUEEN 2016 PRE-TEEN CROWNED
Titleholder on Autism Spectrum will advocate for all differently-abled children

10193327_1459051027.0806NEW YORK, NY – Former The Engaging Educator student Kristina Paravalos has been crowned Queen of the Miss Amazing NY 2016 Pageant in the Pre-Teen category. Kristina was first diagnosed with Speech & Language Disorder, which months later expanded into PDD-NOS “borderline Asperger” on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (now called Social Pragmatic Language Disorder). The mission of Miss Amazing is “to provide opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build confidence and self-esteem in a supportive environment.” Participants

“I was looking for something to help Kristina’s self esteem, public speaking, and confidence,” says Jessica Paravalos, Kristina’s mother. “Miss Amazing came to mind to nurture Kristina. They provide an atmosphere of support and encouragement, as well as a buddy system to help the girls to socialize.”

The Paravalos family was introduced to The Engaging Educator’s work at Queens Museum during a team building improv exercise for Empower Parents, and Kristina participated in an improv pilot class for children on the autism spectrum. Over the course of two weeks, six students on the spectrum and their families took a one-hour improv class centered on the Neustadt Collection at Queens Museum. Find out more about The Engaging Educator’s programming in support of the social and communication goals of children on the spectrum here: http://theengagingeducator.com/access/

Her first public appearance was at Christ Tabernacle’s Easter Eggstravaganza, an event for children with special needs. To schedule an appearance with Kristina, please send an email. A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist the Paravalos family in sending Kristina to the Miss Amazing Nationals in Chicago. To find out more about the Miss Amazing Pageant, visit www.missamazing2016.com.

GO KRISTINA!!!

Listening, Responding, Specificity, Commitment

April is Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month. We are thrilled to bring you this special reflection from Engager Jill Frutkin.

When I teach Improv, I say these four words over and over: Listening, Responding, Specificity, Commitment.

I tell my students not to worry about being funny, or being a great performer- as long as you are listening, responding, and being specific and committed in your communication, you’re doing it right.

Improvisation is by definition unscripted. No one knows what is going to happen next. In order to communicate, we need to listen. Full listening happens not only with our ears, but with our eyes, our hearts, and our entire bodies. When we are really listening, we’re taking in more than just words. We are listening to how someone feels. We look at their eyes, we read their body language, and we listen to their facial expressions.

As we listen, we respond. If we have honestly listened, we can respond honestly. In Improv, sometimes response makes us laugh. This laughter doesn’t come from a clever or calculated place, it comes instead from honesty. The best laughs I’ve had in an Improv class are from responses that in theory should not have been funny, but because they came from honest listening, they were joyfully hilarious in their humanity.

Sometimes a response doesn’t make us laugh: it makes us think. An honest response says a lot about a person and the way they think and feel about the world. When two people are honestly listening and responding, a productive conversation is happening.

In EE Improv classes for Professionals, we look at communication through the lens of how it can help us in our adult lives. How can honest listening and responding make a meeting more productive? How can it further a collaboration? How does full body listening improve the way you pitch to a client? We’re adults who have been communicating for years, but we all have ways we can improve.

For the past four years, I worked as a Special Education teacher. I taught 6:1:1 self- contained classrooms for young students diagnosed with autism. In addition to ABCs and 123s, I worked with students on improving crucial communication skills and emotional literacy.

The saying goes: You’ve met one person with autism means you’ve met one person with autism. My students were diverse learners: I had non verbal students who could read above grade level, verbal students with sensory processing needs, students who never spoke but would sing when music was played.

My students taught me a lot about communication.

You can let someone know what you’re feeling without saying a word.
You can listen without using your ears.

I learned to listen to my students’ body language. I listened to their words, and the individual ways they used their words. I listened to the sounds they used to communicate, and to their facial expressions. I listened to them as individual people communicating and responding in individual ways. The more I listened, the more I knew them. The more I knew them, the better I could design learning activities they could access and be successful in.

The more I teach students of all ages and learning styles, the more I realize that the truths of listening and responding are the same for all. As teachers and learners and people, we can all improve the ways we listen and respond, and in doing so we further communication and increase in productivity towards our goals.

– Jill Frutkin