A new approach to teaching and learning
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A Growing Problem
According to the most recent CDC study in 2012, autism now affects 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys) and crosses all race, education and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are now over one million individuals diagnosed with autism in the United States alone.
For parents of children diagnosed with ASD, one of the most heartbreaking aspects is the absence of the joyful experiences of childhood socialization. Because of delayed social skills and environmental sensory issues, children with ASD rarely are invited to play dates, or birthday parties. And there are too few opportunities to learn and develop skills with their peers in sports or extracurricular programs.
Parents of children with ASD also worry about their children’s future. Developing productive and rewarding job skills are a major concern, as well as fitting into a workforce that requires more collaboration than ever before.
Our hypothesis in creating Islands of Brilliance was that it could address multiple issues that families with ASD children face.
- Provide an extracurricular program, creative activity, and social connections for children with ASD and their families.
- Curriculum centers on the students area of perseverance—that is, their hyper-focus topic of interest.
- Children diagnosed with ASD show a natural affinity to technology. By matching high-interest subject matter with a high-interest activity, curriculum success rates should be higher.
- Allow students to explore their innate creative talent through individualized guidance with a dedicated creative industry mentor, who can teach them skills through a “modeling” methodology
- By focusing on early skill development, we could identify students who possess unique talent, and who will benefit from a continued focused education, mentoring, and training that may lead to professional job skills.
In addition to developing curriculum, extensive user stories were written to anticipate needs of student and mentors during the course of the class. This over-preparation proved itself to be extremely useful, as it allowed for flexibility and improvisation as is required in working with students with a variety of social, environmental and cognitive challenges.
Test and iterate methodology
As of May 19, 2013, we have successfully completed two, 4-session pilot programs held at Discovery World in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – in a private classroom/computer lab. Our first Pilot session was held in Fall 2012 and focused on a Print Curriculum. Seven children were enrolled and were matched 1:1 with mentors and supported by paraprofessionals. In Spring 2013, expanded curriculum included Print, Stop-Action Animation, Flash Animation and Website Design, reaching a total of 12 children.
Over the course of two pilot sessions, the matching of high-interest subject matter with a high-interest activity proved itself out. Children were able to develop increased proficiency with the guidance of their mentor and creatively express themselves using professional level design software. Expectations were never lowered, and students were pushed within their own abilities to achieve.
The diversity and talents amongst this group (of program leaders) make the program very unique and powerful. They are extremely well balanced in meeting the variety of needs and personalities of the children. The positive energy is very well displayed and felt. My child exhibited such joy and excitement for every class and would talk about the class all week.
—Parent of James, Age 9
In addition to the actual skill development activities, we also observed the following benefits:
POSITIVE SOCIAL INTERACTIONS
CONNECTIONS (With Mentor and peers)
POSITIVE SHARING AND PRESENTATION EXPERIENCE
Additional opportunities uncovered
Two unexpected positive outcomes worth noting were discovered during the course of the pilot sessions.
For the age group we are working with, collaboration is an unheard of expectation. However, we witnessed students and mentors develop into teams over the course of the four weeks. Some of the students even proactively listed their mentor as a co-creator in their project. While much of the curriculum is written around experiencing various software techniques and activities, this unexpected positive outcome of unbound creativity and collaboration will be a key building block in future states.
MENTOR SENSE OF FULFILLMENT
One of the major unknowns going into the program was the benefit mentors would derive from participating in the program. In many cases, connection between mentors and students was so strong that mentors exchanged contact info with parents in order to keep in touch with students outside of the program.
Phenomenal program. Can’t express how great it was to be a part of this. Hope to continue this journey.
—Brian Matzat, Islands of Brilliance Mentor
Our vision is that Islands of Brilliance will eventually develop into three distinct stages/offerings, which would create continuing engagement with the program, rather than a “one and done” approach.
The stage we tested in the pilot program, this allows students to “dabble” in a variety of media and software, allowing staff to identify possible areas of strength.
Once a student has developed a talent and affinity for a particular discipline, more focused curriculum and selective mentors would be assigned to work with them.
As students show practical ability in a skill or discipline, more intensive curriculum and high level outputs would be added to ready them for a college or tech school education in the creative field of their choice.
READ JOURNAL/SENTINEL COVERAGE OF THE PROGRAM: