FRC News

The Autism Program makes a little magic

Tyler Wolpert
3/3/2015  8:45 am

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have communication deficits that may impact their ability to express themselves effectively. Language difficulties may also make it hard for students to understand what is expected of them or be confused about what is happening. Visual supports can be very powerful tools to help increase independence and understanding for students with autism. They can reduce problem behaviors and increase effective communication interactions. Visual aids allow students time to process what they are being asked to do and can also be sequenced to breakdown a skill and learn it a little bit at a time.

One of the most frustrating things for teachers, though, is that a supply of learning materials can take years to accumulate. Many teachers have a lack of effective learning materials, and their ability to teach and reinforce concepts to students with ASD can be severely limited, like a carpenter without tools.

Seeing this need in the Champaign-Urbana community, The Autism Program (TAP) hosted the Make It and Take It Back to the Classroom event. Fueled by flavored coffee and pastries, teachers from the local community and TAP staff and interns gathered at Doris Kelley Christopher Hall over the weekend to create different types of learning aids for classroom use. The happy participants cut, stapled, glued, taped, and colored a wide assortment of learning aids—such as flash cards or word cards—while classic rock ‘n’ roll music poured out of the stereo system. These learning aids teach and reinforce concepts, encourage communication, inspire enthusiasm, and create smiles. They help children who have difficulties with listening and attending, understanding and responding, processing sequenced information, and following instructions and routines. They also help reach students with ASD who might not otherwise be able to participate and achieve success and independence. Most of all, the materials make a little magic happen.

The event was a hit with participants. Says one local teacher, “I just want you to know that all the visuals, and all the help you and your staff have given me is truly invaluable.” The workshop was an effective way build or freshen up teaching materials, materials that support teaching and make a difference in the lives of students with ASD.

Part of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois and located in Doris Kelley Christopher Hall, TAP provides a valuable resource to the community of Urbana-Champaign. In addition to workshops, TAP serves approximately 1,000 clients every year in the local community and distributes thousands of learning aids and customizable educational materials. It also provides training for parents and professionals and holds individual consultations for clients. Additionally, the program staffs about 12 interns a semester. These students have the opportunity to meet clients and collectively brainstorm solutions for them. The fiscal year 2016 budget presented to the Illinois General Assembly includes no funding for The Autism Program of Illinois, and the program will be forced to close in August if funding is not restored.