Autistry Newsletter August 15, 2016

| August 15, 2016

FestivalLogo1web-768x390What a great summer! New faces, cool excursions, and lots of great news. But before we look back, let’s look forward to this coming weekend. Steve Gatlin of Special Affects Films has organized a film festival “dedicated to showcasing the finest films being produced for, by and about the special needs community in the world today“. Autistry has one entry this year: Nat Snell’s Alphabet Mission to Mars. Information on the festival can be found on the festival website. Tickets for the event and for the individual screenings can be purchased online.

nats150Nat’s film will be shown in the Short Film group which starts at 4:45pm on Saturday (note that is after the Autistry Saturday workshop!). Please join us as we support Nat and all the filmmakers at the Special Affects Film Festival.

EMBoard Business: In July we welcomed Emily Woods to the Autistry Board of Directors. Emily grew up in the heart of the maker movement helping her family create MAKE Magazine, the Maker Faire, and TechShop. Emily graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz. She is the Member Ambassador for TechShop, Inc., oversees the member experience at TechShop San Francisco, and is currently part of the advance team launching a new TechShop in St. Louis, MO. Emily brings enthusiasm and a full tank of Maker Spirit.

Summer Fun:
This year we began a new program of adventure – Autistry Excursions. Hosted and organized by the Autistry Support Network, these day trips were a huge hit. As president of the ASN, Dick Dinkelspiel took the lead and coordinated trips to Alcatraz, the California Academy of Sciences, a train trip to the California State Railroad Museum, and a day at Stinson Beach. We started these as summer outings but will continue the excursions throughout the year. Oh, the places we’ll go!

whitewaterWhitewater Side Trip:One trip that we will definitely organize is a spring or summer weekend of whitewater rafting on the South Fork of the American River. In July, Betty Lituanio organized an event through Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC) in Placerville. Ian, Janet, Lisa, and Reed went with a group of about 25 eager rafters. It was fabulous. The campsite was pristine. The sun was shining. And the river was refreshingly cool (OK, it was damn cold!). Spiraling through the rapids is an unforgettable and exhilarating experience. This should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Writing on the Wall: “We must write about this” has become a mantra at Autistry. Unfortunately we are so busy that we rarely get the quiet, uninterrupted time necessary to compose coherent missives. However, Dan did manage to write a post about Ian leaving home. Yes, almost 2 years ago Ian moved into a house with 3 other young men. Launching our autistic kids is not for the faint of heart. You can read Dan’s post, Oh Yeah, Ian Moved Out on the Autistry website.

Two of our Dominican University OT mentors have written a great article about their work at Autistry. Erin Chaffee and Bryant Luong worked with a young man, Michael for several months. They were very impressed with Michael’s ability to incorporate new strategies that helped him with self-regulation, posture, focus, and attention. Their article also highlights the power and effectiveness of Autistry’s Project-Based Therapy. Michael’s R3ptor – an OT Perspective can also be found on the website.

We have several new initiatives planned for Autistry. But talk of those will have to wait until the next newsletter.

Janet, Dan, and the Autistry Team

Michael’s R3ptor – an OT Perspective

| August 15, 2016

On January 9, 2016 at Autistry Studios, we met Michael, a friendly young man, who was working on a project, building a Lego MindStorm R3ptor, with an Autistry mentor. Michael’s hands were shaky and he was easily frustrated when pieces did not immediately fit together. “I can’t do this. Help me.” This was a common phrase we would hear.

Michael needed 5 minute breaks after 10 minutes of working with mentors. Breaks included talking about animals and using a stationary bike to stimulate his senses. By the end of the month, we realized his frustration levels would decrease in quiet, well-lit rooms, so we retreated to the library to continue working on his project. Here we focused on orientation transference from the picture to the object. Many times, the object got turned around when brought close to his body.

IMG_6111Each week Michael increased the number of steps he was able to complete on his project over the course of a 4-hour workshop. We saw that frustration levels continued to decrease. As his project gradually but steadily neared completion, we were both excited to see all of the progress he had made. In addition to his actual project, Michael began to physically alter his posture. This allowed him to access his project with greater ease and with greater comfort so that each work session became longer.

michael at eventWith our project almost done, it was time to create a poster and prepare a speech because he was scheduled to present and speak at the annual Autistry Maker Banquet on March 19, 2016. Michael chose his favorite pictures, cut them out using a straight edge cutter, framed them, and independently prepared his own speech! We videotaped him, allowing him the freedom to practice on his own. “I feel good about presenting”, he said. On the night of the Maker Banquet, he looked around the crowded room and said “There are too many people”, so we used calming techniques and positive reinforcement, including practicing his speech. As a result, Michael was able to get up on stage in front of a large group of guests to demonstrate and describe all of his hard work on his project over the past three months.

Michael smilingLooking back these last 6 months, we were fortunate enough to spend time with Michael at Autistry Studios and it is difficult to truly fathom the amount of progress he’s made in such a short period of time. From an ergonomically biomechanical standpoint, his improvements in posture, with relevance to both sitting and standing activities, can be generalized to many different settings while engaged in meaningful activities. Earlier on during our working sessions, Michael constantly needed reminders to carry the boxes of Legos closer and perpendicular to his chest, as opposed to either further out in front of him or angled diagonally upward. These reminders became fewer and fewer as he gradually took to observing proper body mechanics with greater independence. Additionally, he began moving his chair closer to the table to allow for improved postural control. This proved incredibly helpful especially when working with and manipulating some of the smaller, more precise Lego pieces. Finally, he began using his legs more often when lifting heavier objects from the ground as opposed to using the muscles in his lower back.

Selecting and working diligently on preferred activities at Autistry Studios has allowed Michael to not only make gains from a biomechanical perspective, but also from psychosocial and behavioral standpoints as well. As mentioned previously, we observed marked decreases in levels of frustration while working on his projects over a timespan of just a few months. Regulating himself appropriately while observing social rules of conduct during lunchtime was a strength of Michael’s, but being able to endure through times of difficulty and push onward while working on his projects was a remarkable feat to witness, especially when noting low baseline levels of activity tolerance when we first met him.

IMG_6058The duration and frequency of rest breaks while working on his project has decreased, indicating greater patience and ability to persevere through challenging obstacles. Michael has also demonstrated increased flexibility when receiving denied requests or when working with changes in routine. For example, when we discovered that his R3ptor projects was missing a piece, he was able to skip the step, work ahead, and patiently wait for staff to purchase the missing relevant Lego piece. Finally, daily conversational skills have also improved. Michael is better able to remain on topic and participate in social reciprocity with peers or staff during conversations while maintaining appropriate distance between himself and others.

Erin Chaffee and Bryant Luong