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ACEI Special Interest Forums

Children With Special Needs

In November 2012, the ACEI Special Interest Forum on Children With Special Needs met.  The focus topic was “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): The Characteristics.” Bev Brenna, an award-winning author, shared highlights from her most recent novel, The White Bicycle. Group Leader Padmaja Sarathy guided the SIF group discussion. This new novel in Brenna’s award-winning Wild Orchid trilogy offers a highly perceptive portrayal of a young woman with Asperger syndrome.

The group, responding to the ideas generated by the book engaged in an active discussion, sharing their knowledge of and personal experiences and encounters with the unique and challenging characteristics—academic, social, and behavioral—of children with ASD.

Dell Redfearn from Texas, USA, one of the SIF group participants, related her experiences, both professional and personal, with children with Asperger’s syndrome and discussed their unique characteristics. She noted how “many individuals with autism spectrum disorder that she is acquainted with were also intelligent (similar to the main character in The White Bicycle, but lacking in social skills.” She emphasized the need for promoting the development of independence and how essential “it is for the educational system to emphasize social skills when looking at curriculum for students with autism.” The whole group was in concurrence with this need for this student population.

Following up on the same premise, Leena from India pointed out the “issue of anxiety in children with ASD and how parents tend to be overly protective to the point of sometimes hindering their child’s independence and performance.” Drawing on her therapeutic background and training as a physical therapist, she suggested that “performing repetitive movements helps ease anxiety, as these movements have an element of predictability.” In addition, Leena described her experience “watching a video where young adults with Down syndrome share their reactions to living independently in a sheltered environment (in India) under the supervision of a facilitator (who was not their parent). . . . One of their positive comments about this whole experience was that they were happy to not have their parents around!”

Bev Brenna commented, “Tonight’s discussion was illuminating, and I took away some intriguing ideas about independence for people who are differently abled, about ways that we are all typical and atypical, and about self-calming strategies and lessons people might learn from others who have unusual self-calming strategies that work for them.”

Participant comments and feedback about the group discussion and the SIF meeting:

“It was very insightful; the information shared by the participants is not usually found in textbooks.”

“I really enjoyed this session as well as other sessions and learn so much from the diversity of the participants and their knowledge.”

“Thanks again for creating an opportunity for learning.”

“Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing connecting people.”