Earlier this year, in honor of Autism Awareness Month (April), Kew-Forest’s Ms. Gina Milano took a group of our Upper School students to Spectrum360 to learn more about awareness and acceptance of those with autism. Check out the write-up about their visit from Spectrum360 below along with reflections from our students. Thanks Ms. Milano for making this happen.
“Once again this year, on April 1Oth, we were excited to host students from The Kew-Forest School located in Queens, NY. Academy360 Lower School students always enjoy visitors, especially if they are other students! Gina Milano, Kew-Forest teacher and mother of a former Academy360 student (then call The Children’s Institute) arranged the visit. The students began their visit with A360 clinician, Beth Mahaney, learning about autism. Then each student spent some time in a classroom, interacting with students. We were thrilled that three of the visiting students were interested in writing about their experience and impressions for our blog.
We believe that one way to promote not just awareness but ACCEPTANCE of autism, is to create opportunities for the community to get to know our students. Based on the experience the Kew-Forest students had, we think this visit went a long way toward that goal. A big THANK-YOU to K-F students Veronica L., Sunny L. and Azra B.E. for sharing their thoughts with our blog!"
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MY EXPERIENCE AND TAKEAWAY – Veronica L. (Grade 10)
“Before visiting Spectrum360 I didn’t know much about autism. I was a bit nervous in the beginning, but the faculty and staff made me feel very comfortable and the students were very kind.
I didn’t know how wide-ranging autism was until I visited Spectrum360. Throughout my life, I had only met individuals with autism who were able to communicate more effectively. What I experienced in the classroom was students with autism who had a harder time functioning and needed more assistance.
I was surprised to see all the normal day-to-day activities that were being taught to the students. I quickly understood that they needed these lessons to assist them with their communication and basic life skills. When I walked into the classroom I noticed all the students had a personal paraprofessional. I saw activities acclimated for each student’s ability. For example, one student was working on matching pictures while another was working on placing pencils in a bag. Spectrum360 teaches many life skills for students like grocery shopping and brushing their teeth.
My most important takeaway from this experience is that one needs to be very patient with individuals with autism. I noticed that some of the students felt comfortable being close to me while others felt nervous around me.
Although I was in a classroom with students who require more assistance, to my surprise, they were very smart. One boy named Vincent was easily catching onto his activities. He even finished a puzzle before I knew where the next piece would go! He was very respectful and asked for help when needed. I enjoyed my time with Vincent and I’m thankful for the experience at Spectrum360.”
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BEFORE AND AFTER – Sunny L. (Grade 11)
“Before I walked into the classroom, I was a bit tense since I never met individuals with autism before.
“Hi! How are you? What’s your name?” a plump, dark curly-haired girl with glasses greeted me and introduced herself when I stepped into her classroom. Within seconds, she invited me to play the board game “Sorry” with her. She was shocked that I had never played before, but then explained the rules carefully and patiently to me. Soon others wanted to join. However, their teachers gently reminded them to finish their math sheets, reassuring them that they could play after they had completed the task.
When the other kids finished their work, our friend invited the others to play, providing careful instruction about who should go first, who second and so on… A shy, bright-eyed little boy was one of them. He was quiet, but as he played, he concentrated seriously so that he could move the pawn accurately every time. After we had played together for a while, he raised his hand to me warmly and I understood that he wanted to high five me! This touched and surprised me because the impression I had prior to coming into the classroom was that people on the autistic spectrum do not relate socially; this was quite the opposite. It was not just one child that reached out to me, but several kids who were trying to connect meaningfully.
Although I was not technically sitting in my school, I gained an essential lesson outside the Kew-Forest classroom. Before I came to Spectrum360, I had little understanding of autism. But after visiting, I felt that I acquired firsthand knowledge and realized their emotions are just like so-called “normal” people. I did not just observe the self-stimulatory behavior I was expecting like staring into space without connection with others. Yes, it was there too, but many of the children just wanted to interact and relate to us.
I saw teachers, psychologists, therapists, and paraprofessionals trying their best to help their students to gain independence. I really felt the passion of the teachers and how they took care of the children as if they are their own. I noticed that when we were playing the board game, their teachers would observe the students and try to teach them using different strategies to get them to learn. If the teachers found that the students miscounted the steps in the game, they would correct them hand over hand. I could tell that the goal of the teacher was to find the best way to help the children learn and gain knowledge. If something didn’t work, it wasn’t viewed as the students’ problem. The staff would keep trying until they found just the right way to best reach the student. In my perspective, Spectrum360 is not just a school, but a family. After the field trip, it really confirmed my commitment to my chosen career, Psychology.”
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JOYFUL WORLD – Azra B.E. (Grade 9)
“I couldn’t believe there was a grocery store in the school! There was also a kitchen and a bedroom for the students to adapt themselves to real life by practicing how to use those spaces.
The kids at Spectrum360 are learning about how to act in the outside world. The school is educating them to fit into real-life situations. The teacher in the class I observed told me about one student who didn’t have any problems when he left Spectrum360 because he had been taught so carefully and well. He adapted himself to the outside world and it impressed me how the teachers educated the students one-to-one. This helps the teachers get to know students very well and understand their weak and strong points. The way that they treated the students was great and reminded me of the way a loving parent treats their child. Spectrum360 is a very caring and supportive environment.
In the class with non-verbal kids that I was observing, I saw that every student had their own iPad to communicate with the teacher. The teacher previously had taught them basic pictures to connect with meanings. Students who had trouble speaking would choose the picture that they needed to request something. I saw one person making a colorful, paper teddy bear and he needed glue to stick the ear on the teddy bear. He went to his iPad and found the picture of glue, clicked it, “Siri” repeated “glue” and his personal teacher immediately gave it to him. The app was so cool and I never thought that an iPad could be used to be so helpful for kids on the autistic spectrum.
The whole experience with kids that have so many big challenges in life at such a young age was a new world for me that I never experienced before. It was eye-opening.
The strategy of teaching students to earn rewards motivated the children. I observed one student who was so excited to get 5 stickers, patiently his teacher’s directions in order to earn his Oreo cookies as a final treat. I was amazed by the way the system worked and the way every little thing was organized so carefully. One student in another area had earned playing tennis on the Wii and we saw him happily greet us while he was hitting forehands. The school wants students to exercise, so the reward allowed him to earn and practice a sport instead of just using a PlayStation or video games on a couch. It seemed like a very clever system.
As soon as I stepped into the school there was one student who I first noticed waved his hand and cheerily said “Hello!” to us. From that moment I wasn’t nervous at all because his immediate warmth and welcome was something I’ll never forget – he set all my nerves to rest at once.
If I could go back to that joyful world, I wouldn’t be as scared or nervous as I was at the beginning. I was so worried that I would say or do something wrong. I never had the opportunity to spend time with kids with disabilities. It was an unforgettable memory.”