This Your Dollars @ Work post highlights the curriculum the Robert Crown Centers for Health Education developed for health educators to teach children and young adults with autism about puberty, a critical issue many parents, caregivers and professionals find very difficult to teach individuals on the spectrum. The curriculum was funded by an Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grant of over $20,000 in 2013.
Robert Crown Center for Health Education Staff members are passionate about serving children. Educators enter the classroom each day with the confidence that the programs they teach have the power to change lives. Puberty programs, in particular, ease confusion and discomfort and help teens embrace the winding path to adulthood. Our Educators’ noted, however, that their confidence was diminished when they entered a classroom populated by students with special needs. They were striving to make an impact, but their experiences left them feeling frustrated and defeated. Time and again, upon completing a lesson, they would leave the classroom feeling uncertain and asking themselves, “Did they understand?” and “Did I help?”
Phyllis Gorman has been teaching puberty education classes at the Robert Crown Center for 20 years and has taught thousands of students. She said, “We were striving to reach these students and deliver a quality experience and all we could do was to try to slow down the delivery and hope it helped.”
Joan Olson, parent of a child with autism, said, “Children with autism struggle to understand complex subject matter that is customarily communicated in spoken language. Field trips such as those offered by schools to the Robert Crown Center are particularly challenging due to the distraction of the new surroundings.” Olson’s concerns were joined by those of other area parents and teachers, bringing repeated attention to the vital need for curriculum adaptation.
With support from Autism Speaks, RCC engaged special education consultants and got to work adapting materials to make the learning experience really meaningful for students with Autism. That entailed incorporating more visual learning techniques, as well as reinforcing the lessons experientially. Developers created social stories and take-home tools to encourage later reinforcement independently and with parents and teachers.
Below is a sample of slides from the Girls Curriculum:
Below is a sample of slides from the Boys Curriculum:
The response to the adaptation was amazing!
Parents and teachers were one hundred percent thrilled with the program and its resources. They called and wrote:
“Thank you so much for coming out last week! The students seemed really interested in the information, and it was a great experience for them.”
- Lauren Mucha, M.Ed., Transition Specialist, PACTT Learning Center
“Thanks for having us! I thought it was a wonderful presentation. I hope to have my students see it again next year. We will definitely be using the materials and ideas in our classes over the year.”
- Jennifer Bollinger, teacher, Chicago Public Schools
“The information provided regarding public and private touch, and safe and unsafe touch was so important! My daughter does not have an intuitive sense of boundaries and your reinforcement of those boundaries was very productive for her.”
- Anonymous parent
“We had the most wonderful feedback from staff about your time at Soaring Eagle last night!!! Thank you so much for all you did for this!”
- Michele Ricamato, M.A. CCC- Speech and Language Pathologist
It is rare to have the opportunity to experience this level of successful collaboration. RCC Educators have been empowered to make the sort of impact we all hope to make, thanks to the partnership of Autism Speaks.
Both curricula, directed toward health educators, cover general hygiene like dental care, bathing, deoderant, body hair growth, etc. and important lessons such as who to talk to about puberty, what is appropriate in public vs. private places and more. They also cover female-specific and male-specific issues in detail.
Your Dollars @ Work is a blog series highlighting the important work of past recipients of Autism Speaks grants to give you a glimpse into how your donations are changing lives of so many in the autism community! Check out previous entries here.