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.

Embrace the Red Face

The first article from our newest Engager, Olive Persimmon!

I’m standing in front of an audience of fifty people and I can feel that it’s happening. My face is starting to get hot. In a few minutes, my entire face and neck will be covered in blotchy hives. A few minutes after that, the hives will turn tomato red. Clown face red. Strawberry Shortcake red.

And I’m not even halfway through my speech.

Before I address my red face, let me start out by saying that I love public speaking. In fact, love is an understatement. I passionately, obsessively think of words as my gift. I’ve given 100’s of speeches to varying sizes of audiences. Despite all of this, I still occasionally turn red when I speak. Not always. Not often. But it happens. Enough that I decided to write about it.

When I started working professionally as a communication coach, I would occasionally find myself in front of the classroom starting to get blotchy. I was young and new in the field and frequently in front of professionals twice my age. So here I am, a younger professional teaching presentation/speaking skills with cheeks flushed rosy red. I was worried it would diminish my credibility. I was terrified that people would see my face turn red and think, “What can she possibly teach me about speaking? Her redness is a sign of insecurity.”

I became obsessed.

I scoured the internet for remedies for my red face. I downloaded videos and bought vitamins.  I changed my diet in case I had some sort of food allergy.  I practiced intense breathing methods and developed thorough routines. While some of these things helped, they also reinforced the internal agreement I had made with myself that this was a serious problem.

The more I obsessed about it, the worse it became. It was the only thing I could think about. For the first-time in my life, I started having full-on panic attacks while speaking or teaching.  My entire attention would focus on my face turning red and my body would enter “fight or flight” mode. Blood rushing to my ears. Heart racing. Numb fingers. This is what happens when our brains start to freak out and our bodies have a real and intense reaction to our perceived danger.

I had to do something.

This was stealing the joy from something I loved.  Something I had been doing for years. Giving up speaking was not an option. (It should never be an option. You have important ideas, your fear of speaking should NEVER prevent you from sharing them).

The turning point came after I watched this Youtube video with a man named Dr. Barry.

It turned out, the secret to ending panic attacks, was to do nothing. To elaborate, fight or flight mode occurs when our bodies think we are in danger. The more you feed the anxiety, the more it grows. The more I obsessed about my red face, the more symptoms I started having.

According to Dr. Barry, “Symptoms of anxiety are uncomfortable but not dangerous… Once you learn to accept that this is uncomfortable but not dangerous you will think… why am I letting something that is just uncomfortable take over my life…you begin to normalize the symptoms of anxiety. The second you normalize the symptoms, you’ve won the battle…and panic attacks will disappear from your life.”

I watched this video three times before putting it in action.

I was in front of a 14 professionals when I felt my face start turning red. Breathe. “This is uncomfortable but it isn’t dangerous,” I repeated to myself mentally. “I am not going to feed this fire.” After about five minutes, my face returned to normal.

I did this two more times after that initial occasion. I haven’t had a panic attack since then. It sounds simple. Truthfully, it was THAT simple. Definitely simpler than obsessing, fretting, and worrying.

Does my face still turn red while speaking? Yes. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it goes away. Sometimes it remains. But I don’t obsess about it. I talk through it. I voice my opinions clearly in meetings or with friends. I use my words to motivate, inspire, and make people laugh. Most importantly, I keep speaking. I keep looking for opportunities to speak even though I know it might happen. I have something to say and I refuse to let my fear steal that from me.

So, if you’re afraid to speak because you think you might have a physical reaction. Sweatiness. Or shallow breathing. Or Red face or dry mouth or whatever. Speak anyway. It’s as simple as that. Open your mouth and speak. Learn to breathe. Hydrate yourself. But start by opening your mouth and saying something.

Your body may react. It may not. And if it does, remind yourself that you are not in danger despite uncomfortable symptoms. That you have important things to say.

Embrace the red face.

– Olive Persimmon

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

Meet our Team: Hillary Murrell

Hillary HeadshotEE has brought on a WEST COAST Engager! Meet Hillary Murrell!

What is your role at The Engaging Educator? I have just joined the team as a facilitator and Engager!

Where are you from and how did you make it to your current location? I am originally from San Diego. I went to college at UCLA and graduate school in London and have been in San Francisco for the last six years. I spent one summer teaching in New York in college and absolutely loved it! However, I am excited to be representing The Engaging Educator on the west coast when I move back to Los Angeles next week.

When did you first start to love Improv? I took my first Improv class in middle school. I was very shy growing up but when I was on the stage doing improv I felt fearless. That feeling has stayed with me and now I love speaking in front of people more than anything else.

What is something you want to Improv(e) on? I want to Improv(e) on enjoying to relax. I like to be active all the time and want to start enjoying the pleasure of doing nothing.

Where is your favorite place in the city? The summer I spent in NYC my favorite place was Bryant Park with a turkey sandwich from Cosi. My favorite place in Los Angeles is the Ray’s and Stark Bar at LACMA.

What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? A not-so-secret skill I have is that I am a pretty good tap dancer.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel silly and free.

“Yes, and” to reading, coffee, long walks and my puppy.

Meet our Team: Olive Persimmon

Olive 3Meet our newest NYC Team Member: The fantastically monikered Olive Persimmon!

– What do is your role at The Engaging Educator? I am a facilitator, engager, and most importantly someone tying to empower people to find their voices.

-Where are you from and how did you make it to NYC? I’m from the great state of Ohio (the heart of it all!). I wanted to be around talented people who were creating things, so I knew NYC was the right place for me. I loved the chaos and the energy.

-When did you first start to love Improv? I’ve been doing public speaking for ten years. It’s my hobby and passion. I got in to improv to improve my impromptu speaking ability and fell in love because…well…it’s super fun.

-What is something you want to Improv(e) on? My cooking skills are atrocious. Truly,I can barely make eggs.

-Where is your favorite place in the city? I’m in love with the Met. I never had an interest in art until I went on a Museum Hack tour. It totally changed my perspective. Now I can give a decent tour of the Met myself.

-What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? I love creating things with words (speeches, books,etc). Recently though I’ve been really in to spoken word poetry.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel happy!

“Yes, and” to running, reading, and performing

Improv Empowers Teamwork By Tackling Realism – Lawrese Brown

Improv is truly a team sport. If you’ve been lucky enough to witness the magic of two or more people affirming, contributing and creating a story together, then you know what I mean. In those moments it’s clear to me that the sum of all parts (or people) is more powerful than a singular person – and that is the purpose of teamwork. Or is it?

Often when we work in teams, our goal is simply to finish an assignment. Whether a presentation or new project, we approach teamwork as a tool to complete a task faster, not to take the task further. This is why, in groups, many of us quietly mumble a quiet prayer about having the option of working alone. With our hectic schedules, deadlines and endless to-do-lists we’ve forgotten that the purpose of teamwork isn’t an exercise for completion, but collaboration… and that means achieving something bigger, better, and more valuable than what we would have been able to create by ourselves. (Don’t believe me, see inspirational quotes below.)

“Unity is strength…. When there is teamwork and collaboration wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie J.P Stepanek

“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go farther, go together?” – African Proverb

“Teamwork, simply stated is less me and more we.” – Anonymous

Because in improv we seldom know exactly where the scene is going, as players we focus more on what is possible than what is practical. If we agree that the purpose of working on a team is not just completing or creating, but creating bigger and completing more than what we can do alone, then we have to push past one of our favorite adult habits: realism.

While being realistic works when talking about the economy and predicting outcomes, practicing realism as an adult easily becomes an intuitive mechanism for limitation. We become so enveloped in sharing what we should do to complete the project that we forget to consider what we could do as well. As William Shakespeare said, “We know what we are, but we know not what we may be.”

There’s a reason why your favorite and funniest stories have unexpected endings. One of the reasons we speak of “yes AND” so frequently in improv is because in affirming every idea we dwell in possibility. When we say “no” or “I should” we narrow and eliminate alternative ideas all together. So next time you’re working on a team, don’t just focus on getting to the end: Find freedom in the fact that together (contributing to each other’s strengths) you can achieve a much bigger, better and more brilliant ending.

– Lawrese Brown, Engager

Museum Mashup Reflections


Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.19.20 AMA note from Jen:
The first Mashup was born in a car on the way to Whole Foods. And not a NYC car ride – this was a 10 minute conversation en route to picking up snacks for a reception at SECCA. Debbie Randolph was pushing, more than I was, to embody the spirit of improv in our next round of experimenting in museums at the 2015 NAEA conference. I remember having the conversation, getting excited about a great idea, then emailing the others to refining the car plan.

I’ve always had a level of tentativeness with truly incorporating improv into what I’m doing – blame it on years of hearing “improvisers are losers” from a theatre director who RAN an improv theatre. While others may have seen me as risky, I knew I was holding back some of the ‘crazier’ ideas. But over the last three and a half years, I’ve gotten bolder in taking the lead in improv integration within museum pedagogy Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.18.46 AMAND owning my experience and opinions. The Mashup doesn’t belong to that little group of renegades from NAEA. It’s not mine – it doesn’t belong to any one person. We don’t have to be there to train people how to do it or to run it. The idea of experimentation within museums is present within the museum field already. But this celebration of failure/positive risk-taking/off-the-cuff/Yes, And mentality? This is improv. This is what, through The Engaging Educator, we are teaching and embodying – and have been for three and a half years, and will for many, many more. And here’s my experiment, embracing it all and running with those ‘crazy’ ideas that don’t seem so crazy once they get rolling.

So, moving forward we’re stewarding #MuseumMashup. This page is a place where we’ll promote, help organize, host resources, reflections, photos and information – it’s also where you can find organizers near you, and get involved in our next adventure this late summer/early fall – the Worldwide #MuseumMashup. That being said, welcome and do Yes, And the fun!

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.23.34 AMA note from Shaelyn: On the first Nationwide Museum Mashup Day, events were organized at 6 museums across the country. Museum educators, enthusiasts, and the public were invited to visit a site near them or follow along online with the hashtag #MuseumMashup. Between 10 am and 8 pm EST, there was only one half hour period when no group of museum enthusiasts was holding a Museum Mashup!

The hashtag generated nearly 800 tweets, with 300 original tweets and 400 retweets. Messages sent on twitter about the event appeared in timelines 800,000 times for as many as 3 million views. The hashtag reached #1 among trending hashtags in the United States in the evening. Whether participating online or in person, the first Nationwide Museum Mashup Day provided a wonderful opportunity for people to share the experience of looking at museums in new ways.

Visit our Storify summary of the day to see a recap of how it unfolded according to the tweets participants shared: https://storify.com/MuseumMashup/nationwide-museum-mashup-day