The Benefits Of Art

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Educating Autism – Art and Creativity to Engage an Autistic Child in the Classroom

October 16, 2013

by Claire Draycot

Educating autistic children can seem like a challenge. Indeed, it is often hard enough to educate children without ASD, but to engage and maintain the attention of a child with autism when trying to teach them about something in which they have no interest can seem, at times, nigh on impossible. Kids with ASD may require very specialized teaching methods in order to combat sensory issues, difficulties in focusing on things which have no real interest for them, communication problems, and possibly attention deficiency. These problems may lead many to believe that the child is stupid or unskilled, and a lack of socially interactive skills on the part of the autistic child does nothing to help this illusion. The perception is that children who cannot get along with school cannot get along in the real world. As everyone who has witnessed the wonderful work of The Art of Autism know, this perception is entirely unfair. Autistic children are not unskilled – it is merely that their skills manifest in different ways to those of other children, and they are often not easily induced to demonstrate them. This can be frustrating for parents who want to ensure that their child gets the best possible education and best possible start in life. However, a little patience, understanding, and creativity when it comes to education can work wonders. The use of art as a teaching tool can have unparalleled effects in opening up an avenue of communication between student and teacher, and in engaging the interest of the pupil.

Physical and emotional benefits

Art lessons have benefits both practical and emotional. Some young autistic children may struggle with their fine motor skills, for which the simple act of guiding crayons over paper can render a huge improvement. However, as well as honing their motor skills, making drawings allows autistic children to communicate thoughts and feelings they may otherwise struggle to express. Viewing a child’s drawing opens a window into interests, preoccupations and emotions which may go unregarded in a child with ASD, who does not communicate these things in a conventional manner. This can provide the teacher with a greater understanding of the child, which is of enormous benefit when it comes to teaching them.

Painting is a fun activity for Molly

Painting is a fun activity for Molly

Adaptation and control

Many autistic children struggle in conventional classrooms because the methods utilized do not suit their own particular way of doing things. The idea of adapting their personal methods can be upsetting. Art gives them a degree of control over their learning experience which many greatly appreciate. A child shown a map and told the names of the countries on it may become bored or frustrated, let their attention wander, or simply refuse to participate in the lesson. A child asked to draw their own map, and make it as accurate as possible, immediately has much more control over their learning experience. They are more likely to become engaged in the task, actively seeking out the information they need on their own terms. Crucially, they are able to conduct themselves in a manner which they prefer while at the same time taking in essential information. Furthermore, the tangible end of a drawing assignment provides a sense of focus which may be lacking in other lesson formats – the ultimate end of gaining knowledge being nebulous and non-immediate.

Defining boundaries

Visual aids are often very useful for those teaching austistic children. Those who provide resources for the teaching of autistic children recommend the use of visual aids to help clarify concepts which may be confusing for someone with ASD. Autistic children are less likely than other children to meekly accept the word of their teacher when the reasoning behind an action or concept seems incomprehensible. Visual aids help to illustrate these concepts, making them seem instantly much more reasonable. This principle can be carried through into the classroom as well. TEACCH – a specialized system of teaching autistic pupils – recommend the use of a highly visually defined teaching area to help children get into a ‘learning’ mindset, and to make it perfectly clear that one cannot act in this space as one would act at home. Many autistic children appreciate clear boundaries and definitions, and there is no more effective way of defining a boundary than through clear visual markers.

Musical engagement

People with ASD can respond in surprising ways to creative teaching methods. Music, in particular, has been found to elicit amazing responses from children with ASD. Many autistic children respond far more enthusiastically to a lesson framed musically or rhythmically than they would to a more conventional lesson. Some ASD children like the patterns and rhythms of music or chants, and these can benefit from, for example, math lessons phrased in rhyme, or chanted. Others like the opportunity music gives for them to engage with others through clearly defined parameters. Making music or singing a song with the rest of the class gives the autistic child a part to play which is predictable and easy to complete yet simultaneously creative, expressive, and inclusive. Making them feel included is one of the greatest ways a teacher can ensure that the mind of an autistic pupil is ‘in the moment’, so to speak, that their attention is on the lesson and, crucially, that they are enjoying the lesson. See the Art of Autism story on the importance of music by Jacqui Callis.

Molly drumming at Hidden Wings

Molly drumming at Hidden Wings

Learning through personal expression

Creative methods of teaching can thus provide an unparalleled way of communicating and engaging with autistic pupils. Framing lessons which may otherwise seem dull or pointless within a creative context lends a sense of focus to a lesson, and gives the child a measure of control over their learning experience which helps to ease frustrations and make their education more enjoyable. This will allow them to develop their skills, and to demonstrate to their peers that, although they may not engage with lessons in quite the same way as others, they are in no way intellectually deficient!


Summer Is Coming

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Summer is coming.  At the very least a summer attitude has been around for a while now: shorts, flip flops, and warm weather.  By now many families on the Spectrum have had their annual CSE meetings to plan for the summer and next year. A funny thing happened; we had our meeting for Mike at our district’s Special Ed office.  For the last few previous years when Mike was attending Nassau BOCES Rosemary Kennedy School, we went there and participated via phone conference at a table where his teachers and service providers sat.  Those teachers and providers were all very much on the ball; having sent us copies of new goals and objectives to review before the meeting actually took place.  Smooth as silk.

This year, not so much.  Maybe it was the break in routines for both us and the district CSE, who hadn’t physically seen us in for at least 3 years.  Everything was going really well as the teachers and service providers from Island Trees Memorial Middle School reviewed Mike’s progress this year, his first at the school.  The district’s psychology chairman who was running our meeting suddenly realized that Mike was 14 this year, and started the discussion about pre-pre-planning his transition from middle school to high school and (presumably) beyond.  He spoke glowingly about how much progress Mike had made both behaviorally and academically, and that maybe (!) Mike would make that transition back into district, since the district Special Ed programs and curricula had itself grown and expanded.

Blah, blah, blah…

As my wife and I looked at each other, we knew we had the same thought process simultaneously: no effing way in hell is Mike ever, ever, ever going back to district schools.  Ever.  He was what we termed their ‘guinea pig’ many years before as the district essentially began their fledgling, rudderless, eternally-incompetent start to their Special Education program; subjecting him to different, often divergent methodologies of teaching and addressing autistic behavior.

Ummm, no. Hell no.

Well, this started an avalanche of unforseen and unintended discussion, so much so that it wasn’t until we got back home that we realized that we were derailed, and did not go over any of next year’s goals and objectives.  The good thing was that we never signed any documents at the end of the meeting indicating that we agreed with all that was discussed during the CSE.  As we learned many years ago, never sign anything at a CSE other than an attendance sheet.  As embarrassing as it was for 2 parents who consider themselves relatively ‘on top of things’ to forget to review our son’s goals, it was not an irrevocable faux pas.

My wife promptly called the district CSE, informed them of the oversight, and was able to have a copy of next year’s goals mailed to us for review.  After the goals came in the mail, she went over each of the goals with the parent trainer who visits almost weekly, and was able to break down the goals, or tweak them.  She scheduled a telephone conference with Island Trees’ teachers and providers and went through what changes we (she) wanted implemented in the goals.  She then told them to make the changes or we would unfortunately need to schedule another CSE meeting before this school year ends.

Did I mention that my wife rocks? She is ‘Autism Warrior Mom’ personified.  

Summer is coming.  That means day camp, swimming, ice cream and all that good stuff.  I hope all your kids’ goals and objectives have been addressed to your satisfaction, so that you can enjoy summer with them.

Take One: Acting With Autism

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This seems like a novel approach to foster/model socialization.  Many children on the spectrum already mimic tv shows and movies; this would be a way for them to learn appropriate language with their peers.  The self-confidence they gain is an added bonus. -Ed 


As the founding artistic director of Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory’s Acting Academy for Autism, Stephanie Wilson said children have less stress learning social skills in an acting class than they do in a traditional social skills class.

“These kids take a script or an improvisation and look each other in the eye and have a real conversation. That is our goal — they understand each other’s emotions,” said Wilson, of Westlake Village.

One exercise, for instance, prompts youths to say a silly word or phrase.

“But each time they change the emotion: happy, sad, scared, hungry,” Wilson said. “They love this game, and it helps them with body language, facial expression and voice tone. Those are the big three.”

On Monday, the conservatory will present its second acting academy for youths in grades three through 12 with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Nearly 40 children with autism attended Gold Coast classes in the past year, Wilson said.

“Parents say that they weren’t sure about our program until they heard their 10-year-old son running around the house reciting Shakespeare,” Wilson said. The program also received a grant from Thousand Oaks and can offer scholarships to some students.

Classes are taught by Wilson and her daughter, Elizabeth Angelini. Angelini was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 12 and has been involved in education for almost a decade. Another instructor, Billy Parish, graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Occidental College.

“When I first enrolled my 10-year-old son, Wyatt, in the program, I was worried that he would not be outgoing enough, too easily distracted and unable to fully understand the materials,” said Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson, of Hidden Hills. “Was I wrong. He is in love with the experience, and just today he was reciting lines from Shakespeare. … We plan to stay in this program as long as it is offered.”

Marilyn Binggeli, of Simi Valley, enrolled her 14-year-old son last year.

“David has grown in confidence since joining. He is very disciplined and focused on doing his best,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but the data comes from 2008 so numbers could be greater now, Wilson said.

“We still don’t even know what causes autism or why it’s growing, but we do know that it is not simply that we are better at identifying it,” Wilson said.

This year’s offering was prompted by last year’s success, Wilson said.

“I am getting more and more calls from parents with adult children with autism who are interested. … We are trying to figure out how to accommodate them in a separate class from the younger kids so that they, too, can have the experience of becoming self-confident and accomplishing something.”

If you go

What: Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory’s Acting Academy for Autism

When: 4-5:15 p.m. Mondays for grades 3 through 7; 5:30-6:45 p.m. Mondays for grades 8 through 12. All classes run Jan. 14 through March 18; no classes Jan. 21 and Feb. 18.

Where: Four Friends Gallery, 1408 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks

Cost: $225

Enrollment: Call 427-5314 or email

Doug Flutie Scores With “The Social Express” For Autism Classes

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he Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism Partners with The Social Express

The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism and The Social Express are partnering to donate computers and interactive social learning skills programs to schools with Autism classes.

The Social Express™, creators of new interactive social skills programs for special needs children, has partnered with The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism and donated copies of its program to schools who teach children with autism.

“We’re very proud to donate The Social Express learning program to The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism,” said Marc Zimmerman, CEO and Founder of The Language Express. “After using our program, teachers tell us that students are extremely receptive to its social skills lessons like ‘talking about what others like to talk about’ and ‘being part of the group’. Many ask to use the program everyday.“

Zimmerman added, “Educator feedback also tells us that The Social Express characters engage students so well, they’re able to begin learning tough social concepts. We’re excited to share the program with more schools!”

The importance of technology to enhance children’s learning in the classroom is widely accepted. For children with autism, laptop computers are especially helpful but are out of reach for many schools with autism specific classrooms.

The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism has long recognized this fact. In 2000 the Laurie Flutie Computer Initiative was created for the purpose of donating computers to underprivileged families of individuals living with autism as well as to schools with autism-specific classrooms.

Chris Chirco, Program Director at the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, stated that, “The Flutie Foundation is excited to partner with The Social Express. Computer technology has become a key component in the education of many individuals with autism spectrum disorders and The Social Express offers a very visually stimulating and engaging interface that is sure to appeal to children on the autism spectrum. Learning social skills can be critical for an individual with autism to succeed independently.”

Computers are given to schools with autism-specific classrooms that could not otherwise afford to purchase them. To date the foundation has distributed close to 500 computers to families and schools in New York and New England.

In its initial phase, The Social Express is a 16-lesson interactive video-modeling social skills learning program. Parents, professionals, and educators of special needs children like the high-quality, Hollywood-style animation that holds their attention without over stimulation and the scenes that reinforce the best choices for kids to make in social situations.

Children with autism, ADHD, Asperger’s, and other social-emotional deficits find the characters engaging and many ask to use it every day. Learn more about The Social Express by visiting the website: 

About The Language Express, Inc.:

The Language Express™, founded by parents of autistic twins in 2008, is a privately held company based in Encinitas, California. The company develops The Social Express™ and other interactive social skills software and learning management systems. The company’s mission is to help special needs children with social-emotional deficits to improve their lives. The company’s video modeling social skills learning programs help children with ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s, and related disorders to improve their interactions with others. Visit the company at 

About The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism:

The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, Inc. was established in 1998 by Doug Flutie and his wife, Laurie, in honor of their 20 year old son, Doug, Jr. who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. The Flutie Foundation’s mission is to support families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Foundation is committed to increasing awareness of the challenges of living with autism and helping families find resources to help address those challenges. We provide individuals with autism and their families an opportunity to improve their quality of life by funding educational, therapeutic, recreational and advocacy programs. For more information on The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, please contact Maria Baez at the Ebben Zall Group at (781) 449-3244, or visit

A Preview Of “Night Of Too Many Stars”

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autism benefit stewart o'reilly king matthews

NEW YORK — A week after their “rumble” in Washington, Jon Stewart invited Bill O’Reilly back on stage in New York, this time to debate MSNBC‘s liberal host Chris Matthews — while both inhaled helium from red and blue balloons.

“Sounds like me,” quipped a squeaky-voiced Matthews to CNN’s John King, the brief debate’s moderator, who instructed O’Reilly, “You inhale, they decide.”

This time, the cause was Stewart’s fourth Night of Too Many Stars benefitsupporting autistic children and teens with education and training programs. The event, taped Saturday night at the Beacon Theater, will air Oct. 21 on Comedy Central, with celebrities manning phone banks for call-in donations live at The Daily Show studio. Three previous efforts (the last in 2010) have raised $14 million.

Like O’Reilly and Matthews’ appearance, celebrity participants were loosely organized around unlikely pairings of “rivals” or opposites you’d never expect to share the spotlight, “who will appear together on this stage for this cause,” said Stewart, the evening’s omnipresent emcee.

Alongside event supporter Tommy Hilfiger, Ben Stiller showed up as Derek Zoolander — the preening, clueless model from his 2001 film — to hawk a phony benefit item, the 2013 “End of Syphilisation” calendar. (“It’s the last year of the Maya Rudolph calendar; the acropolis is coming,” he warned.)

Others included Stephen Colbert and a costumed “liberal” bear; Carly Rae Jepsen and actor Harvey Keitel, who alternated on her hit Call Me Maybe (she sang her verses, while he offered hilariously spoken verses); and a stick of butter (later revealed as Kevin Bacon) vying for the affection of Paula Deen with a stalk of broccoli (Liev Schreiber). “I saw her deep-fry a Sara Lee cheesecake while it was still in the box,” Bacon said.

An emotional highlight was a duet of Firework performed by Katy Perry and Jodi DiPiazza, a pre-teen autistic girl from Rochelle Park, N.J. (who also played piano), which left Stewart and audience members choked up.

And among, um, unique experiences auctioned off to the Beacon audience were Al Pacino, for an appearance in a family’s holiday-card photo; Seth Rogen, to pee alongside in the Beacon restroom as a camera crew followed (“we can share a urinal if you bid high”); and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, to be best friends with the winning bidders for the evening. (“Remember, this is a night that’s going to last an hour!” exulted Stewart.)

Comedians Louis CK, JB Smoove and Hannibal Buress were among other participants, and Fred Armisen, Jimmy Kimmel, Julianne Moore, Jerry Seinfeld and Matthew Broderick are scheduled to man the phones for live TV wrap-arounds next weekend.

But not before O’Reillly and Matthews got off some scripted zingers: “You, Bill, give everyone’s crazy uncle something to say on Thanksgiving,” Matthews said. O’Reilly, who called Matthews the product “if Dennis the Menace and Alex Skarsgard had a child,” said, “You constantly sound like a man falling down the stairs,” and “someone who takes the pressure off his guests, by doing all the talking.”

Teen Explains His Autism To Prospective Classmates

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Freshman Nick Brady knows kids could look at him funny. So being new to the JSerra Catholic High School community, he made a video to explain why he does some of the things he does.

Brady’s autism affects his movements, but as he explains in his video, typing is what saved him and allowed to prove that “you can be smart but look dumb.”

He said while he is friendly, sometimes his body is not.

Brady, who went to St. Edward the Confessor Parish School in Dana Point, will be taking three classes at JSerra with the help of two assistants, who also appear at the video. He warns his fellow students that he wears headphones in class and sometimes twists his uniform shirts.

“I’m hoping to wear my clothes the normal way, but I can’t stand the feel of them on my skin,” Brady says in the video. “Sometimes, I just have to pull my pockets out and pull my sleeves in.” To the dean of students, he says directly: “Sorry Mr. [Patrick] Holligan.”

In an article posted on the JSerra blog, Brady writes that he is excited to begin his high school experience at the San Juan Capistrano private school.

“You will learn about my autism and understand that I am different. It’s hard to be different, but that is how God made me, and I trust Him,” he wrote to his new school family.

School District Tries To Switch IEPs For Girl With Angelmans Syndrome

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Mom Says School District Changes Autistic Daughter’s IEP, Balks At Letting Service Dog Come To School

The mother of a child on the autism spectrum wants you to read this story and ask yourself why did her daughter’s school district make the changes it did.

This is the story of five year old Devyn and her service dog Hannah. Devyn has “Angelmans Syndrome” — a combination of autism and epilepsy.

Hannah rarely leaves Devyn’s side. She can alert Devyn’s mom if Devyn is about to have a seizure and just by licking her face, Hannah can interrupt the seizure and help Devyn to start breathing again. 

The handle on her harness helps Devyn walk around independently.

So Devyn needs Hannah, especially at school. But just weeks before Devyn goes into kindergarten in the Gates Chili School District there are problems. For a while, the district said the dog couldn’t come. Now they say Hannah can come to school and Devyn can get her one-on-one aid. But the district refuses to train the aid on how to handle the dog.

Devyn’s mom can’t understand it and she wants you to know about it.

“It would help me to have the community understand where we’re at right now and maybe get their support to put a little pressure on the school as to why they’re not communicating with me because there’s been a break down somewhere and I can’t really figure out why we are where we are right now,” Heather Pereira, Devyn’s mother said.

Here’s where the breakdown started

In March, Devyn had an individualized education plan, or IEP. It said Devyn would get a one-on -one aid and a service dog. (See picture above)


But in June, the same IEP made no mention of the dog or the fact that three doctors prescribed it for Devyn. (See the picture above)

So how does that happen?

Heather says she got a notice from the district in the spring asking her to sign a form to correct the IEP. If she signed it they wouldn’t have to have a meeting. She had done it before, so she signed it this time.

But, Heather says the the district told her they were only correcting “clerical errors.” There was nothing about the dog. But when she gets the revised IEP in June, all reference to the dog was gone.

The Gates-Chili School District Statement

“The District has never denied a properly documented accommodation for any student, including a service dog. Furthermore, the District has never unilaterally changed an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for any child.”