A Sentence Can be a Labor of Love

One of the most exciting moments for me as well as a family I work with recently was a journal that included a picture and a sentence. What may you ask is so special about a sentence a first grade child wrote? Because this sentence, my friends, was composed completely independently and written quickly and fluently, with requests to spell a word when needed by a child who has written very few independent thoughts/sentences. So, this was a day we rejoiced!

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“The whale is whooshing.”

Autism in Love Documentary

Excited to see this new documentary is available on netflix. David and Lindsey are among the couples focused on in this documentary that gives insight to what it is like to be in a relationship with someone with an autism spectrum disorder.

I had the great honor to interview David a few years ago while he lived in the Jackson area and it was interesting to know what his career was like as well as his personal history.

Friday Five: Local Resources for Families affected by Autism

As the director of Jackson Autism Center, I speak with countless families looking for resources for their child with autism, regardless of the age of the child. Here are 5 local resources that I find myself mentioning frequently to parents:

  • Camp Hope Hollow– Day camps for individuals with disabilities take place Mondays-Thursdays in the summer with a variety of mini-camps throughout the school year. A few other overnight camps may be available as well. A variety of ages are worked with so this is a great resource from approximately 3-4 years up.
  • Challenger League- What I love about the challenger league baseball is you will see kids 5+ learning a multitude of skills about baseball, turn taking, responsibility, the list goes on…the spirit of these teams amazes me and I love watching how kids grow and change through participation in the baseball season!
  • Eudora Welty Library- Eudora Welty Library has an Autism Resource Center located in the children’s section with books and materials that can be checked out as well as providing monthly support group meetings.
  • Jackson Autism Center- JAC not only supports its current clients, but also provides opportunities for families in the community through monthly support group meetings, sensory-friendly movie showings, mini-day camps, and more coming soon!
  • Little Giants- Little Giants is a developmental play center that works with children birth-5 years old. Classes are inclusive and allow children with special needs to be around their peers and learn through play and repetition.

Children with Autism Are More Likely to Elope/Wander

Staying true to some of the challenges faced with autism, one of the biggest concerns is elopement. Elopement is when a child with autism wanders or runs away. It is one of the most terrifying moments for a parent, to realize your child is not within your sight.

There are many new devices and trackers that assist families in keeping track of their child, regardless of where they may wander from, whether it is a grocery store, home, school, etc.

Last year, we shared a story with a local TV station about a child who elopes very frequently and has recently gotten a service dog to assist in his safety. Thankfully, since this time last year, their fundraising goals have been met, but I am sure there are others that need this type of support.

AngelSense has made a GPS tracker to help keep kids safe. You can find out more here. There is also a bluetooth bracelet made in Birmingham, AL by Kulture City. More information about Kulture City’s program lifeBOKS is available here. Other low tech products families use include bracelets with family contact information, temporary tattoes, and shoe laces with contact information. Behavioral therapy can be instrumental in these situations to help understand what the purpose of wandering is and then, how to change this behavior.

Bounce for Autism 2016

We are excited to have an event for autism families and especially the kids this April. Premier Tumble and Cheer is hosting our second Bounce for Autism. This event is scheduled for Saturday, April 30 from 10:00 am-12:00 pm. This event allows families and kids with autism to come and play and be themselves while parents can mingle and feel comfortable in a relaxed environment.

Tickets are $10 per child and water and snacks will be available for purchase in the front room. Please come and help support families in the area who have a child with autism.

You can purchase tickets in advance here.

Autism Society of America’s Yearly Conference in NOLA 2016

Exciting news about ASA’s yearly conference- it’s closer than ever to the Jackson, MS area this year, 2016! The yearly conference will be in New Orleans, LA July 13-16, 2016. They have extended the early bird rate through April 30, 2016. Discounted rates for individuals with autism, groups (2+), and speakers. Don’t let this wonderful opportunity pass you and your family by! Register today!

The Prism Project

For Autism Awareness Month I’d like to highlight an exciting arts program that I learned about last summer at the Mississippi Summer Arts Institute. For the past three years, Madison Avenue Elementary K-2 has participated in an arts grant created to bring arts integrated instruction to children in special education classes in Mississippi schools. Through my involvement in this program, I learned about a project called the Prism Project, led by Ryan Hourigan and Amy Hourigan. Ryan and Amy are husband and wife professors of music at Ball State University in Indiana. They have two personal children on the autism spectrum. Prism Project is a dramatic arts program offered on Saturdays and as summer day camp to children with disabilities who live in the Ball State area. University students interested in the arts and/or special education assist children as needed with their participation in the arts. Recently, the Prism Project has expanded to New Orleans. Please follow the Prism Project link to read about this exciting and innovative program. There’s something for children of all ability levels, including children who are non-verbal and/or need assistance with mobility or attention to task. I especially enjoyed reading about the impact of arts participation on social competence for this population of children.

Check out the videos of student performances for a parent audience. Two of my personal favorites are The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Snowy Day. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have a program like this in the Jackson area?!

*This post has been written by a guest author, Lisa Gerard. Lisa Gerard has been a special education teacher at Madison Avenue Elementary in Madison, MS for the past nine years. During this time she has been awarded Madison Avenue Teacher of the Year (2011), Jackson Metro Area Teacher of the Year (2015) and the Arts Advocacy Award from the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education (2015) for her efforts at integrating the arts into the special education curriculum at Madison Avenue. Lisa is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Special Education with a focus in Autism. She has done contract work in the past for Jackson Autism Center.

Sensory Friendly Movies in Jackson, MS

I was approached in October 2015 about hosting sensory friendly movies. I was excited, but apprehensive all in one…could such a small center take on such a big responsibility? How would people find out about the movies? Would they be a success?

Why was this important to me you may ask? I’ll never forget being a part of the first movie experience for one of my sweet students, who loved movies, but could not go to the theater because it was too loud. When I went with her on her first movie field trip and the theater accommodated her and turned the sound down, her mom cried to find out her daughter saw her first movie!

So what is a sensory friendly movie? Kids are allowed to move around as they need to, but are kept safe, lights are not as low as normal, and the sound is not as loud. These things make a huge impact for individuals with sensory needs because it allows them to better enjoy the movie!

We began with the Peanuts movie on November 5, 2015 and it was a success! Around 150 people came out to say “yes, we want sensory friendly movies in the area.” We have continued to have movies every month or every other month. We are excited to see what the future brings!

My favorite moment from our last movie was a dad coming up to me and telling me his son had told him I love you for the first time- at our sensory friendly movie! What an honor to be a part of that special moment!

Our next sensory friendly movie is Saturday, April 23 at 9:30 am. Tickets are $5.50 per person. This is not about making money; it is about providing opportunities for children and individuals to enjoy a movie stress-free or judgement-free environment. JAC has been so blessed by the employees and managers at Grandview Malco and look forward to many more movies!

A Different Perspective on Autism Awareness Month

As April began, I was filled with anxiety, excitement, and eagerness to start and complete all the things I wanted to do. When April 2 came, I read a few blogs parents of children with autism posted. I have to say, a few stuck with me that I wanted to share, regardless of if you, as the reader, are a parent or professional, in the autism world. The one today may seem a bit harsh as you begin to read it, but I think by the end, you will see her perspective.

Kim Stagliano is raising three young ladies with autism spectrum disorders, between the ages of 15-21. She talks about the reality of autism that is mostly not mentioned in the feel-good stories that are reported most of the time that point to autism breakthroughs or special things individuals with autism can do. As the author of “All I can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa,” she talks about life raising her three daughters. I have this book and am looking forward to reading it cover to cover in the near future.

The best advice Kim gives in her article is to make a difference in someone’s life who has autism…whether that is inviting a child to a play date, birthday party, volunteering your time or energy to help at a local center that works with children with autism, or being a friend to a parent who has a child with autism…there are no little jobs in the autism field. Each and every one make a difference.

Friday Five: Five Favorite Apps from JAC (PART ONE)

These apps are super fun and great for teaching a variety of skills to kids with autism. I have put them in no particular order.

  • Daniel Tiger’s Grr-Ific Feelings: Many kids on the autism spectrum struggle to understand emotions, pick up on nonverbal cues of emotion, and understand how to regulate their emotions. This app allows children to play a turn taking trolley game where they work on skills to regulate emotions, understand and identify emotions, draw about their emotions, watch short videos about emotions, and even take pictures of themselves with a specific emotion. It is packed with lots of fun!
  • Sesame Street: Breathe, Think, Do: This is another app that really focuses on emotional regulation. Sesame Street has taken 5 situations where a child may be upset and teaches them to breathe and calm down, think of a solution, and then follow through with that solution. The animated videos are fun and engaging while teaching such important skills!
  • Mr. Potato Head: This app is great for such a variety of reasons- I love using it with kids who are learning to express new langauge concepts such as body parts, jobs/occupations (clown, pirate, witch, cowboy, etc.) as well as having beginning conversations about what Mr. Potato Head is doing in the fun scenes or taking a picture of him. All ages enjoy this app!
  • Toy Story Theater: I love the story-telling feature in this app. So many kids with autism do not have great play skills and this app lays out a story and then has the kids “act it out” with the characters and props. It is so much fun to save Woody from the Aliens or stop the tornado with Buzz’s laser gun…the possibilities are endless…
  • Timbukto Pizza: Who doesn’t love to eat pizza? In this app, you design funny pizzas by following the directions/recipe (that you are supposed to remember) and if you do it well, the monster will eat it all up…but if you do it wrong, he will throw the pie at you! Either way, you can take a picture as the pizza chef!