Autism: How to be Inclusive

Create a welcoming and safe environment.

 

 

Do you know what it’s like to go to church when Autism is part of your story?

George has autism and Down syndrome.

Every Sunday, George is welcomed with his whole family by their local church. He isn’t just “welcomed” as in, they-let-him-come. He is welcomed, as in, they actively seek ways to make it comfortable and safe for him to come.

This is the essence of inclusion and it impacts George’s whole family.

A church for George and his whole family.

When I scrolled through my Facebook and encountered an update my friend Yvonne made, it warmed my heart and intrigued me.

In her post, she expressed her appreciation and thankfulness to her church family for welcoming George so well. George has Autism and Down Syndrome. She gave thanks for the love and welcome which the church extends to George and flows out to George’s family.

I knew in that moment, that I wanted Yvonne to help me discuss the ways in which their church made a home for their family for this blog post.

April is Autism Awareness Month.

Last year I wrote about how isolated many persons with autism may feel.

Natural Play Therapy encourages parents and caregivers to bridge the gap by moving into the world of the person they love through play. I also described how isolated caregivers themselves can feel in the midst of the care they give.

It’s so easy for the rest of the world to carry on with their busy lives. Families dealing with autism can feel that they don’t have a place to belong in the outer world as they deal with the unique challenges that have entered their lives through Autism’s portal. I want you to hear from Yvonne’s own words, what it has meant to them to have the members of their church reach out to their family over the past year:

 

What I appreciated most about the church we decided to go with, is that several people approached us and let us know that they were glad we were there. And you could tell they meant it.  They also had a pretty good special needs population and were fine with ‘noises’ in the sanctuary.  They also had a special needs class on Sundays and when approached about it I voiced my concern that George can’t do ‘a class’.  They said no problem that they would accommodate his needs and just love on him.  They said there would be no harm in giving it a try.  They were willing to work with his special needs, some of which required securing the door shut so he couldn’t run off, making sensory items available to him such as tactile items and auditory items.  They were very willing to learn how his communication device worked and how they could help him to communicate with it.  This class was only on Sundays but I was also wanting to come on Wednesdays so my older boys could participate in the youth group and I could do a bible study.  They had no place for George so they created a place for him and provided a one on one helper so I could go to a bible study!  It has been such a blessing to be able to participate in a women’s bible study again.  I have not been able to do that for 9 years!

Let’s discuss some specifics George and Yvonne’s church did to open make a space where the whole Marshall family could come and feel welcome.

Six tips for churches and other groups to create a good experience for families dealing with Autism.

  1. Provide locking doors for kids who run [Windows should be provided, or half-doors, so the classroom can be observed while the door is locked for accountability where there is a locked door.] How to make a DIY interior Dutch Door
  2. Educate adults and children about autism and the variations on the spectrum to prevent unhelpful critical attitudes. The director of our music arts co-op did this, as some of the children (mine included) needed some understanding about why some of their classmates were overwhelmed by the distraction that their talking out of turn during class was causing. They needed to understand that they were making it doubly hard for their classmate to concentrate. 
  3. Create environments which don’t overstimulate. Bright lights, flashing lights, and lowlights can cause problems for some people who are on the autism spectrum. The key here is keeping the lights natural and non-stimulating. If you’re unsure about whether the lights are a problem in the environment, you can ask the person or the parent for their insight.
  4. Consider whether to have a special needs class or integrated class. At Yvonne’s church, they have a special needs class on Sunday morning. If you choose to have an integrated class, make sure that everyone understands each other’s needs and that appropriate expectations are in place for behavior. Make sure there isn’t any bad attitude toward behavior that is natural. Assume the best about each other and be patient (Definitely, some training should be taught for teachers and a trained assistant should be present to help the child if needed).
  5. Bring an attitude of flexibility. For example on Wednesday night,  the elderly women meet in the room that is especially fitted out for George’s need. The women invited George to be in there with them, accompanied by a helper so that Yvonne could attend a study with another group of ladies. One of the elderly ladies told Yvonne that her brother had special needs and it warmed her heart to see George being made welcome in the church.
  6. Ask, “What can I do for you?” If you can’t figure out what to do. Ask.

Five tips from Yvonne, for parents seeking an inclusive environment for their family.

  1. In regards to worship services at church: You might have better experiences in one with a simple worship service where the volume is tolerable for your child and there are no moving spotlights or strobe lights (Yes, some churches use strobe lights…). If the church has a pipe organ it might not work for you as well because of the fullness of sound.
  2. Lay the groundwork by visiting with the person in charge before going to a new church, playgroup or other organization. See whether it will be a good fit for your family. Don’t get discouraged if the person seems overwhelmed at first. What is a part of your daily life may be very new to them. On the other-hand, by being proactive, you might be able to head off some misunderstandings.
  3. Even if you decide that group isn’t for you, by coming and talking with the pastor, or person in charge of the group, you are planting a seed. Another family in the future, who is dealing with autism, may reap the fruit of your inquiry. Don’t feel like your efforts are wasted.
  4. Let the person who has autism have input on what will help them if he or she is able to express that. Otherwise, as the parents, have confidence in your judgment. 
  5. Be flexible. Yvonne said, even as she advises that churches and other groups be flexible when reaching out to families, she advises families that are dealing with autism to also be flexible as well. What may just barely work out now can be improved upon with time and understanding.

 

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Creating better spaces for George at home.

Even as things are getting better for George and his family in terms of church support. There is room for improvement his home environment. Not in the home as much as right outside of his home, in the backyard!

George loves to be outside. Everyone who knows him knows that. Sunshine and fresh air are great environments for every child.

However, George also likes to start going and keep going once he gets outside. This is called “running” [Running away common with autism.] It is a challenge for parents caring for children with autism.

Yvonne can’t just send George to play outside with his brothers and say, “Stay in the backyard.” That ain’t happening! When George goes outside, he has to be accompanied by someone who can ensure that he won’t run off. As much fun as that would be for him, it could have dangerous results by they time he was found. I don’t need to elaborate.

As long as I’ve known Yvonne she has desired to have a safety fence for George so that he would be free to go outside and explore and enjoy the outdoors. I have been in charge of George in the past when he has climbed and re-climbed the outdoor play equipment outside and seen the utter joy on his face.

Wouldn’t it be great if Yvonne could have a safe climbing space and other things for George to explore and do in their backyard, without having to worry about him running off if she goes inside to put the laundry in the dryer or answer the phone?

Yvonne’s family recently moved and spent a good bit of money on special locks throughout their house (expensive) in a desire to keep George safe. I was really disappointed to hear that she still hadn’t been able to afford a fence (it has to be really tall and strong).

Right now Yvonne’s working on applying, again, for a grant to help with the expenses. She has done this several times and been turned down. I’m praying that she won’t be turned down again.

Taking good care of a child who has autism can be very expensive and that’s why I’m glad to announce that, once again, Bear Paw Creek is donating to Hope4George again for Autism Awareness Month this April. Let’s come alongside Yvonne as her family seeks to do the very best she can for George!

Yes, awareness does help. There is still so much that many people don’t understand about autism. But also, doing something helps. This month, when you buy from Bear Paw Creek you will be doing something to help the Marshall family. Additionally, you can donate directly to their family by contacting Yvonne using the link for George’s Natural Play Therapy below. For regular updates on how George is doing, you can like his page Hope4George linked to below.

Useful Links:

I am praying for this to be the year that George gets a great fence in his backyard to help him enjoy it safely!

15% of all sales to Hope for George April Autism Awareness

Do you have suggestions for creating an environment that is welcoming to those with autism? I would love to hear them in the comments below. If this post was encouraging or helpful to you, please share it so that we can keep this message going. We need more churches and groups like Yvonnes church!

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Jenette is a freelance writer of web content, blogs, and podcast show notes. She is also a wife and imperfect mother, whose family mean the world to her. She has dealt with sensory issues in her family and keeps up with autism news as some of it intersects with their experiences. You can find Jenette’s business website at www.mywordsforhire.com.

AMTA Regional Conference 2017

AMTA Regional Conferences 2017

 

 

Since 2013 Bear Paw Creek has been advertising or sending donations/door prizes to the regional music therapy conferences.

This year we will also have our products on display at the GLR Conference! It’s already full swing and it sounds like loads of fun.

I’d love to have some social media fun and get some glimpses of what’s going on this year!

Read on!

Regional AMTA Conferences 2017

Tag Bear Paw Creek – To Win!

The internet and social media has opened up a whole new world for Bear Paw Creek.

With it, we are able to connect one and one and build relationships across the globe. I love it!

I thought it would be fun to play a little game during the weeks of the AMTA Regional conferences.  Our products will be showing up in giveaways and also in some exhibit halls.  If you spy some, take a picture, and tag us with @bearpawcreek or #bearpawcreek.

At the end of the conference we will giveaway a $50 gift card to use in our store!

Tag Your It @bearpawcreek #bearpawcreek

Janet Stephens is the founder and creator behind Bear Paw Creek’s creative movement props and bags. She is passionate about learning and sharing along the way.

Shamrockin’ with Creative Movement Props for St. Patrick’s Day

Shamrockin’ with Movement Props

 

 

One of my favorite ways to incorporate music and movement into our days is by using holidays and the times of the year. 

St. Patrick’s Day is coming and I’m excited to share a song written by Rachel Rambach Listen & Learn Music!  It’s title says it all, “Shamrockin’ Song.”  It’s sure to do that and get stuck in your head!  My kiddos LOVED it (and so does their mom.)

We’ll be giving the song and balloon ball away this week!

Now I’ll share some ways we’ve been having fun with it.

Sharockin' Song and Shamrock Balloon Ball Giveaway

Shamrockin’ with the Stretchy Band

Sometimes when I hear a song, I know it will be a great one with the stretchy band and any time I hear Irish music, it gets my feet tapping, and I want to start dancing like Riverdance!  You’ll see our feet attempt to do an Irish jig in this video.  With lyrics like this: hey, hey, move left and right, up and down, it’s great to use with the stretchy band. If we had a little more I think  it would be fun to put the kids on the connect-a-stretchy band straight and have them dance in a jig line!

 

Shamrockin’ Streamer Craft

Using scarves or streamers to move along with the Shamrockin’ Song would allow more individual interpretation of the song. 

We had fun cutting out these shamrocks and adding some “gold” for tails.  Glitter of course was a must!

Then we danced along with the song following the directions in the song.

Making shamrock streamers creative movement with shamrockin' song

Buy Rachel’s song and learn more about it!

Shamrockin' Song Listen and Learn Music Rachel Rambach

 

 

 

Check out the St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Ball

St. Patrick's Day Balloon Ball

Janet Stephens is the founder and creator behind Bear Paw Creek’s creative movement props and bags. She is passionate about learning and sharing along the way.

Dr. Seuss, Beat Competency, Reading Skills

Finding My Dr. Seuss Books

 

March 2 was Dr. Seuss’ birthday and this week is Read Across America week. With that in mind I went to gather up all my Dr. Seuss books from our book shelves. But…..

Since our oldest son moved out and took all his children’s book, almost ALL of our Dr. Seuss books are gone!  Oh my – I will be needing to add those back in.  We are still enjoying the books I have left but sorely missing some favorites.

Here are some Dr. Seuss activity ideas to incorporate with his books, and a fun way to use the stretchy band.

Dr. Seuss, Beat Competency, Reading Skills and the stretchy band

Dr. Seuss Activity Links

What is your favorite Dr. Seuss book?  One of my favorites is “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. 

Here are my favorite links to use for this week’s celebration:

What is your favorite book? Any fun activities you do?

 

 

Stretchy Band For Rhyming

Tuneful Teaching shared a great article this week called “The importance of keeping a beat: Researchers link ability to keep a beat to reading, language skills”.

The findings of a Northwestern University study of more than 100 high school students lend proof to the surprising link between music, rhythmic abilities and language skills.

Read more at: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-09-importance-link-ability-language-skills.html#jCp

 Tuneful Teaching shares this about beat competency:
The Stretchy Band is also a fabulous way to teach “beat competence,” the ability to move your body in a steady beat which matches the tempo of music.

It reminded me of the video they shared awhile ago where they used the stretchy band to teach literacy. You can take the same concept shown below, and use it to send rhyming words around the circle.  This is a great tie in with Dr. Seuss’ books!

 

Janet Stephens is the founder and creator behind Bear Paw Creek’s creative movement props and bags. She is passionate about learning and sharing along the way.

Crossing the Midline with the Stretchy Band, Balloon Ball, Bean Bags

OT Mom’s Learning Activities Link Up

 

 

About a year ago I stumbled across Tracey from OT Mom Learning Activities.  She lives in Africa and was looking for some bean bags, and I also sent her a stretchy band and balloon ball for her to try out.

She specifically shared how to use the stretchy band, bean bags, and balloon ball for teaching bilateral coordination.

She says, “Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of the body together in a coordinated way. It is also called bilateral integration

I will be sharing her ideas and linking up to her blog posts and information.

OT Mom Learning Activities with stretchy band, balloon ball, bean bags

Crossing the Midline with the Stretchy Band, Balloon Ball, Bean Bags

Follow this link for fun activities for crossing the midline to implement at home and come with lots of photos to show you just what to do!

stretchy Band Round up of Activites

Stretchy Band

Bear Paw Creek’s stretchy band can be used very effectively to work on midline crossing skills with a group of kids!

Have your kids stand in a circle and hold on to the stretchy band. These 3 kids are holding 2 bands which have been joined together to make a longer one.

Start clapping a beat or singing a song and have the kids move the stretchy band hand over hand around the circle in a rhythmical way.

They should be crossing the midline as they reach from side to side.

Read more on OT Mom!

 

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Bean Bag

In this post you will learn the following:

Bean bag games and activities make use of a fun and inexpensive prop to develop gross motor skills.

Younger children may find beanbags easier to handle than a ball, and because beanbags can’t roll away, they may be less frustrating for the child with poor coordination skills.

Some of the games suggested can make great kids’ party games too!

Click on this link to read the list of bean bag activities.

Rachel&GeorgeBeanBags2

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Janet Stephens is the founder and creator behind Bear Paw Creek’s creative movement props and bags. She is passionate about learning and sharing along the way.

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What Does a Music Therapist Do Anyway?

Learning about music therapy.

 

 

When I was in high school, I remember one person saying she was interested in going into Music Therapy. I also remember thinking, that’s a thing? It seemed like something pretty neat, but I had no context for it.  

 For many years that has been the case with the majority of people, but thankfully that is changing. 

Music and emotions.

I’m going to talk to you about music from a layperson’s perspective here.

Let’s not make it complicated, we all know that music impacts us, don’t we? That’s why we put on certain kinds of music when we need motivation to work hard physically (whether it’s on the basketball court or mopping the floor). Melancholy music suits us when we have a broken heart. Joyful music is used in all kinds of celebration. Orchestral music, while it doesn’t have a literal story line often tells of a mood that we can collectively agree on. Composer John Williams is well known for writing the theme music which carried us along in our favorite films.

We know this, we know that somehow music gets into us and the effect runs deep.

Music therapists study the scientific components of what happens emotionally and neurologically to a person when music is played, then uses that knowledge to integrate music in therapy. More study is being done on the effects on the brain and development of children when music combined with music are a routine part of their lives. The possibility that music aids in healing is being explored as music is brought into hospitals for children, babies and older patients. Children and young persons with autism are benefitting from therapy involving music, often one on one with a therapist. And there is some exploration of bringing music therapy into schools.

So much has been gained in the area of research, but I hope to see it continue so that more people can benefit from music therapy.

It seems to me that music therapists, while relatively new in profession, bring to the table one of the oldest friends of mental and emotional health, making it accessible to those who need it most. You see, those who are very young, very old, physically or mentally sick often don’t have access to music the way we do. 

If a teen with a broken heart can find a little comfort in the rhythm and words of this song by going to Youtube and dancing to something like this. Dancing in itself can be soothing. But the key thing is having that access.

When I was going through a really devastating and depressing year I listened to these songs over and over. Medicine for my soul indeed!

One of the problems is that not everyone has access to music.

The residents in elder care depend on family, friends and recreation directors to bring music into their lives. Without them, the lives of many elderly in eldercare facilities wouldn’t have the music they love. And it’s important to have the music they love, not only for their emotional wellbeing, but also for mental stimulation that good memories bring.

Research in music therapy helps professionals who work with aging persons know what a difference music in their lives makes. I think it would be wonderful if each nursing home had a music therapist either on staff or hired to work with the recreational activity director.

How about in our schools? How about in conjunction with children who have anxiety? Or how about just to break the ice so all of the kids feel more connected to each other. I hope the trend for more and more research and more music therapists in each town and city continues. And it is, read this article to see it from one music therapists perspective as she sees her profession become more understood and recognized: And What Exactly is That Anyway?

 

Would you like to learn more about music therapy?

Here are some links for you to explore if you would like to know more about what music therapy is, what is does and the research that is ongoing with music therapy:

About music therapy:

http://www.musictherapy.org/about/musictherapy/

Music therapy in hospitals:

http://www.musicasmedicine.com/about/mtinhospitals.cfm

http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/healing-with-music-therapy#1

Music therapy in schools:

http://mtp.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/04/14/mtp.miv012.extract

http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/MT_Music_Ed_2006.pdf

http://www.coastmusictherapy.com/our-services/in-school-programs/

Music therapy in eldercare:

http://www.ascseniorcare.com/music-therapy-seniors/

https://www.longtermsol.com/benefits-of-music-therapy-for-seniorsblog/

http://www.caringheartsofrochester.com/the-benefits-of-music-therapy-for-the-elderly/

Now it’s your turn, help spread the word about music therapy and its benefits!

http://sessioncafe.com/lets-flourish/

You can read this very personal post from Janet, founder of Bear Paw Creek, about the therapy her daughter received while fighting cancer:

Fighting cancer and music therapy

Comment below and tell us what songs lift you or soothe you. Do you have a favorite song or style? I bet you can still a song you learned when you were little… ahh the power of music.

Afte that, would you please share this post and others like it, so that we can start to get the word out and help people understand what music therapy is and what it’s potential is for future therapy? Thank you! 

 

Jenette is a freelance writer of web content, blogs, and podcast show notes. She is also a wife and imperfect mother, whose family mean the world to her. She has a high respect for business owners and entrepreneurs of all kinds. She enjoys helping them tell their story, connecting them to customers online.

You can find Jenette’s business website at www.mywordsforhire.com.

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