Check out www.connectionstheatre.org for more information about the wonderful project created by the synergistic efforts of Clear Horizons Academy and The Hale Center Theater!
So the fall begins. I am graduated and living the dream--right here in Provo, Utah, USA. I am paid to do what I love! I currently am working for ScenicView Academy and Clear Horizons Academy. ScenicView is a home/school for adults with autism and learning disabilities. Clear Horizons is a school for children with autism. And they happen to be in the same building. Pretty Awesome.
At ScenicView I am mainly the drama teacher, as well as co-teaching a "Movement Exploration" class, and a one-on-one educational mentor. At Clear Horizons I am a para-educator in a lower-functioning class of 11-13 year old boys.
Hopefully we'll start another drama project up at Autism Journeys soon. Other opportunities for doing drama work in various avenues are also in the works. My cup runneth over! Seriously, it's hard to say choose and maybe say no to some.
The recent drama camp at the Orem Library was delightful. I had incredible aids and precious and talented actors. I'll see if I can get the video up of the performance soon.
Neal A. Maxwell speaks much of orbits:
"No one is placed exactly as we are in our opportune human orbits."
I completely believe this, and am so grateful for the orbits I have been placed in recently. I received a research grant from my university to do research on drama and autism. I was so focused on making sure my IRB proposal was approved that other endeavors in this area were pushed to the back-burner. After a while I realized that I wasn't feeling like I was "illuminating" to my full potential. I felt stuck, as I was having a hard time finding mentors at my university that were able to help me, and things were not moving forward. I seemed to be barking up the wrong tree. What I honestly felt like was this image: pounding on a wall of bricks that wasn't budging. I wanted to pound on some bricks that would move!
So, I took a step back, did some yoga breaths, took a break from the IRB, and focused on why I am really doing this. Research is important and progressive, but it isn't my main goal. I want to be in the trenches. As my mind and heart slowly let go of all the expectations that I had for myself, that I thought others (like the university and world in general) had for be to be "successful," illumination began to return. I started volunteering at Clear Horizons Academy (a school for children with autism) and a few weeks later was hired there. I connected with the UVU Theatre Department and was hired as an autism resource for their summer camp program, I scaled back my desires for the summer camp I am putting on with ASD Connections (see dramautism.org) so that it is doable, and more things are in the works.
I feel like these orbits are indeed aligned and that my ability to illuminate and receive the illumination of others around me is steadily growing.
As I was driving to see a play at a local community theatre tonight, I tuned into good ol' NPR and the topic of the discussion was adults with autism. Of course my attention was immediately grabbed. Those talking were opening up a discussion about the dilemma people connected with autism (either they have it or a family member has it, etc.) face when the individual with autism has his 22nd birthday. Where do they go? What do they do? How are can they contribute to society? It was said that they used to all be sent to group homes because no one knew what to do with them. They aren't doing that any more, they said, but there still isn't a solution and most of them "end up on the couch at home watching wheel of fortune." The man whom I ended up sitting next to at the production has a 40-year-old nephew with autism (and other disabilities) who lives in a small group home. It was a bitter-sweet experience to talk with this very gentle, realistic, positive man and his wife about their family's experiences. It reminded me that more people than we think are affected by autism and care about it deeply.
I started thinking about my personal "philosophy of teaching" that is continually developing, especially with regards to autism, and if my goals and tools can help this problem. Does drama help with "entry" into adulthood? It's more than just drama--drama is the tool. My intent is what I want evaluate first, and then see how drama helps accomplish that. Currently, my intention is to provide experiences for those affected by autism where they can become more competent in understanding how to connect with the world around them (including parents, siblings, friends, etc.) Confidence comes from competence. I want their abilities to be validated and help them develop the tools to share those abilities, and contribute to the world. I feel like drama provides a very hands-on, validating, experiential-based approach to this intent, which is why it is my tool of choice. (Granted--I whole-heartedly agree that a combination of approaches suited to the individual is ideal, and drama is only an aspect of that--an important aspect.)
If using drama does indeed help develop competence, confidence, and contribution, then I submit that it could very well help with "entry" into adulthood. If individuals with autism are seen as contributing members of a community, and they indeed feel that they are, there will be a place for them that isn't just "sitting on the couch watching wheel of fortune." NPR talked about this man in the Netherlands that started a for-profit company that focuses on a specific set of skills that people with autism often have (computer understanding, attention to detail, repetition, etc.) and the business is going incredibly well! And more importantly, almost 20 adults with autism are off of welfare and two of them are dating. I want to help people understand what their skills are, know how to relate with the world around them, and be the contributing, happy members of society that they can be! While Netherlands man is doing it through creating a business, I am doing it through drama.
I am now a part-time employee for an autism treatment facility! They are hiring me to be trained in their approach to those with autism, and also to create a drama program! I am incredibly grateful for a loving God, people that have faith in me, and opportunities to progress.
Last summer I created and facilitated a series of pilot community outreach workshops for adolescents with autism. My mentor, Professor Julia Ashworth, and I plan to research the effects of applying my background in drama pedagogy in teaching those with autism, looking specifically at the workshops I did this summer. I will research the experience by examining lesson plans, video footage, and parent feedback from the project, which were collected at the time. I have applied for an ORCA Grant here at BYU to help me be able to take the time to do this research. Regardless if I receive the grant, I'll hopefully still be doing the research.
There is a wealth of positive anecdotal findings in the field of DramAutism, but because the field is so new, there is not much supporting data. This project is the first step in my attempts to collect data and is a foundation for projects to come.
Individuals with autism struggle in a variety of areas, including, but not limited to: engaging in social interaction, holding appropriate conversations, exercising intra and interpersonal flexibility, and maintaining ongoing relationships. Yet they have the potential to be extremely successful as they are usually incredibly gifted in more than one area. Because of their inabilities in social and emotional cognition, they are often held back from pursuing these gifts and talents.
In many states, the needs of families affected by autism are frequently not met through government programming and funding. Treatments offered are costly and exclusive to younger ages, leaving preteens, teenagers, and adults without means or skills to appropriately engage in a social context. While they may intellectually match the level of their peers, socially, they are extremely deficit. Their potential to be contributing members of society is not realized through neglect and lack of resources.
DramAutism can help fill in the gaps that are significantly missing. Drama helps develop and practice communication skills, flexibility, and social interaction through reflective, imaginative, and confidence building dramatic experiences. DramAutism also explores the power of integrating neuro-typical peer mentors and specialists, not only providing positive examples for those with autism, but also offering the mentors and specialists greater awareness and sensitivity. This approach is globally gaining credibility as universities and professionals experiment empowering those with autism using drama.
This is such a huge part of my life that I thought it deserved it's own blog/page. "DramAutism," as I'm calling it for now, is a passion that came out of nowhere. About a year ago I discovered that people all around the world were using theatre to help individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My interest had been sparked, by my "Applied Theatre" class, on the different and interesting ways to use theatre to better lives. Using drama with those with ASD jumped out at me--I honestly can't remember how I found it... I think just roaming the internet one day. As I talked to faculty members on campus (at BYU), no one seemed to have heard of this new arm of "Applied Theatre." For some reason (I believe that reason is a little seed of desire God planted in my heart) I was incredibly drawn to it and kept researching it's current uses and those who were using it. This attraction continues today and is what drives my efforts. I have interviewed many professionals in the field (hopefully those will be posted soon--I am so grateful to those who interviewed with me, yet be prepared to be generous as you listen to my first attempts at recording interviews), which has helped broaden my awareness of what is currently happening and what everyone hopes to have happen.
Last winter I volunteered at a home for men and women with learning disabilities (many with aspergers) in their drama class. That was an enlightening, unique, and worthwhile experience. I learned so much from their teacher, as well as from them.
This summer I tried to find opportunities to work with those with autism/do drama with an existing program, but nothing was available or worked out. So, I created my own pilot summer workshop. The morning session was for children, the afternoon one for teenagers--with autism. It was an incredibly difficult, rewarding, and jump-starting experience. Hopefully soon I will post about my findings. (One of my mentors and I are applying for an ORCA Grant that will help me to revisit what happened this summer, analyze, and write about it.)
Already, there are miracles happening to promote the creation of pilot projects in the Provo/Salt Lake area where I am. I have yet to find out the confidentiality of sharing about those projects, but be assured that they are rolling, I will share when I can, and it is EXCITING!!!!! Now it's just making it through my physical science exam tomorrow...
This picture is a little how I feel... jumping off a cliff into the unknown, and hoping to become as graceful as this human being is....