Community Donations Spark Real-Life Learning Opportunities for Kids with Autism
October 02, 2020
October 02, 2020
As adults, it can be easy to forget some of the advantages that come with age and experience, such as the joy of a trip to the salon for a shampoo and blowout, or the feeling of freshly cleaned teeth after a visit with the dentist. For many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, these scenarios are terrifying.
For some, the simple unknown of a haircut or dentist appointment is what makes it scary for kids with autism. For others, it’s the sensory overload that comes with bright lights, buzzing clippers, spinning toothbrushes and motorized chairs. Whatever the reasons, these situations are often stressful for the children and their caregivers – if they are able to occur at all.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) is effective in helping children with ASD combat their fears in these areas, but the therapy team at the Hopebridge center in Fishers, Indiana wanted to take its support a few steps further. Why not create a special space dedicated to building comfort and skills around haircuts and dental visits?
The initial idea arose when one Hopebridge team member chose to make something positive out of the downtime caused by the pandemic. Understanding that the indirect effects of COVID-19 left others in the community longing to help others, this Hopebridge Hero went to work.
Once confirming a designated room within the Hopebridge center, the therapist began seeking donations to build out the dream. By putting feelers out on Facebook Marketplace, the team collected nearly everything it needed to conduct natural environment teaching (NET) sessions – all within the center.
Fishers locals donated a barber shop-style chair, hair trimmer, scissors, mirror, cape and water bottle to re-create a salon station. They offered up a dental chair, aesthetician light and glasses for a mock dental office. With such a big-hearted community, the team was also able to stage a bedroom with a bed, dresser and clothes rack so children could practice household tasks like making a bed, folding clothes, hanging clothes and putting them away in drawers.
These realistic settings are helping the center’s kiddos prepare for success once they embark on a real trip to the dentist and salon, as well as teaching them valuable functional skills they will use throughout a lifetime. Behavior analysts and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) are now able to more easily discover the elements that may have held children back from these crucial life experiences and then implement small steps and goals to overcome them.
The results have already been incredible. For instance, one boy was recently due for a haircut. While the team was still working with him on the early stages of this goal, his parents were able to successfully bring him in for the real deal. Though he was not yet comfortable with the hair trimmers – the buzzing around his ears bothered him – he was able to push through the haircut. To increase his comfort, his therapy team worked with him on tolerating the buzzers again the next day without issue!
Thanks to this exposure and the combination of small goals, this child and others are on a path toward a more positive experience at their next appointments, but the work does not stop in the clinic. Once the children master it within the center, the Hopebridge therapy team can recommend local businesses that are inclusive and knowledgeable about autism. Many of the brick-and-mortar shops and offices will allow families to come in to tour the facility and meet staff prior to appointments so the actual visit can run as smoothly as possible.
Seemingly “strangers” to the center, the people who donated items to the cause were not only willing, but enthusiastic about helping their fellow neighbors. Maybe even more powerful, the team found that each person had a special connection to autism. Either they had a family member or friend on the spectrum, worked in the field of special needs, or was simply touched by the prevalence of ASD and had the desire to get involved in the autism community. Through this, the Hopebridge team was able to listen to their stories and see firsthand how autism awareness has grown and is creating positive outcomes.
The amazing team of superheroes that made this project come to life include Benny Escamilla, Karina Smith, Shannon and Luther Triplett, Molly Warnack and a number of staff members and charitable donors who wish to remain anonymous. Donating both time and goods, the generosity of these individuals is making life a little easier for these kiddos, day by day.
Are you interested in making an impact in your local autism community? Join the Hopebridge team! Whether beginning a new career path in ABA therapy or serving children with other skills through a therapy or corporate role, the door is open for you. Learn more about the available positions at Hopebridge so we can all work together to make a meaningful difference in these families’ lives.
*Informed consent was obtained from the participants in this article. This information should not be captured and reused without express permission from Hopebridge, LLC.