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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Autistic program projects prepare students for the real world

Autistic program projects prepare students for the real world

By Haley Landgraff | Seaholm Highlander

Walk downstairs into the special education wing on any given day during second hour, and chances are you will find 17 kids hard at work, stringing beads together to make jewlery, cutting and gluing cards together, or shaping sticky dough into the form of a dog biscuit.

These are snapshots of the many things that keep Seaholm’s autistic program hard at work on a daily basis, creating tokens to signify their accomplishments as well as things to sell around the community.

“The Christmas cards are the main focus of September and they go until mid-November. We sell them to parents, teachers within Birmingham and we also go to craft shows,” said special education teacher Kristen Ziebell. “Our main focus right now is Christmas cards; we’re expanding soon and doing birthday cards and hopefully thank you cards.”

The sales happen all over Birmingham, helping the kids see the progression of their work.

“We have [sold at] the Bingham Farms School craft fair which is in the fall. I have spent many Saturdays selling these at conferences,” said special education teacher Debra Lloyd. “Hopefully we’ll be able to go to the farmer’s market for a couple of Sundays and have a table set up there. I’ll take some of the boys to help me sell.”

The selling of the dog biscuits uses a different approach.

“The dog biscuits sales are online,” said Ziebell.

“We sell them to staff here,” said special education teacher Karen Mellott.

“We put flyers in their mailbox occasionally.”

The program allows for every child to participate, regardless of their level of autism.

“There are 17 kids in the program, and all of them participate,” said Ziebell. “Each classroom has three different businesses.”

With the three different businesses, there is something for every kid to help them feel like they accomplished something.

“The dog biscuits we make are for the lower functioning kids,” said Ziebell. “Then we do beading. We do key chains which have either bigger beads or smaller beads for each level. And then we have the cards, and both the lower functioning kids and higher functioning kids can participate because there’s gluing, there’s stamping, there’s punching, there’s cutting, so it just depends on their level of what they can do. They each participate in something for each business.”

Every child in the program is given the opportunity to work to their potential, as well as move forward with their work when they’ve improved.

“Half of our kids can do the beading well,” said Lloyd. “We try and get the other half to start with the bigger beads that we may not necessarily sell, but just to get them into the fact that they have to follow a pattern. Hopefully, we will get more ‘beaders’ as time goes on.”

The way the business is set up gives the kids involved a chance to see the process from start to finish, and enjoy every part of it.

“The kids love it. It’s something different,” said Ziebell. “They actually get to see the finished product. They go to craft shows and they go to conferences and sell and they actually see it unfold.”

“I’ve taken a couple of the kids on Saturdays and they help me sell,” said Lloyd. “They can see that we make it not just to make it, but for a purpose.”

The money they make from the business reimburses them for the supplies used, but also helps them to purchase some things for the program and also have a few special treats.

“Most of the money we put into buying more things, but if we have extra money we buy some things for the classrooms,” said Lloyd. “In years past, we’ve taken our peer mentors out with us for a day off of school to a movie and out to lunch. So it’s kind of one for all and all for one, and everybody has fun.”

The reaction the instructors get from their students makes the whole process worthwhile, and the kids feel important for their accomplishments.

“They’re very proud. They’ve actually been interviewed by the news several times and they’ve been on TV,” said Ziebell. “When we play it back for the kids they have huge smiles on their faces.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to prepare the students for their lives after high school, and to encourage them that they can do anything they set their minds too.

“We were trying to find something for them because after high school our kids go to a secondary program and we’re trying to help prepare them for a real life situation,” Ziebell said. “They get jobs after high school, so we thought we would start in the classroom and build it to a real life situation.”


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