Oh, What Fun We Had!

L-R  Jude Shingle, Ann Ellison, Judy Stewart, Maureen Barber-Carey

L-R: Jude Shingle, Ann Ellison, Judy Stewart and Me (Maureen Barber-Carey) in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday, my colleagues and I had the privilege to give a presentation at the 2014 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference. The title of our talk was Digital Art at the Intersection of Arts and Special Education. It focused on the use of technology in special education specifically with the implementation of social stories™.

Early on we made a commitment to technology and wanted to provide insight on how our school uses it to help students learn, grow and gain confidence. The audience was very receptive. They enjoyed watching a film the students made, learned various methods to secure funding for technology and gained an understanding of the fundamentals of a social story. They also enthusiastically participated in making a social story with our artist in residence Jude Shingle.

Only in its second year, the VSA conference is truly amazing and a great resource. It provides a wealth of knowledge and is a wonderful networking opportunity. I met many individuals dedicated to the arts and special education including the VSA representatives from Korea and Hong Kong. I look forward to continuing our collaboration with VSA and watching as this conference continues to grow.

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VSA – Here We Come!

Tomorrow is an exciting day!  We are traveling to Washington, D.C. to present Digital Art at the Intersection of Arts and Special Education.  Jude Shingle, Ann Ellison, Judy Stewart and I were honored to be selected to give this presentation.

L-R: Jude Shingle, Ann Ellison, Judy Stewart and Me (Maureen Barber-Carey)

L-R: Jude Shingle, Ann Ellison, Judy Stewart and Me (Maureen Barber-Carey) practicing for our presentation in D.C.

The 2014 VSA Intersections: Arts and the Special Education conference brings together educators, administrators, researchers, teaching artists and more interested in improving the arts learning experience for students with disabilities.  The VSA is a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

On Thursday’s blog, I will let you know how it went, provide a copy of our presentation and some feedback that we received from audience members.




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Are You Ready To Beat The Beast?

Ryan beating the Beast on the Maureen Riazzi Adapted Course last year.

Ryan beating the Beast on the Maureen Riazzi Adapted Course last year.

Are you ready to beat the Beast on September 6th? On yesterday’s blog I shared true stories of athletes reaching out to children on the autism spectrum to encourage them to become active in football, hockey, surfing and soccer. These athletes recognize the power of their position and reached out to their own communities to establish relationships with children who look up to them. We are proud that so many individuals from our community and beyond have come together to support children and adults with disabilities by becoming involved with the Barber National Institute’s Beast on the Bay. We too have volunteer athletes who have offered their expertise in providing training for persons participating on the Maureen Riazzi adaptive course. In addition, we have hundreds of volunteers who are helping make this year’s Beast on the Bay a huge success.

The Beast on the Bay is a 10-mile extreme obstacle course on the shores of Presque Isle State Park. Participants will scale walls, trudge through mud and race through wooded trails. With the success of last year’s inaugural race we already have 880 participants from sixteen states including Florida, California, South Carolina and Tennessee. Our oldest competitor is 72 and the youngest is 16. I’m also excited that 48% of the racers are women.

Maureen & Ryan with Beast

Myself, the Beast and Ryan at last year’s Beast on the Bay

A unique component of Beast on the Bay is a 1.2 mile obstacle course offered for persons with disabilities 16 years and above. Beginning at Beach 1 the course will accommodate ambulatory participants as well as those in a wheelchair or power chair. Six obstacles will be spaced throughout the course and incorporate a variety of challenges. All participants are welcome to have a “course buddy” accompany them free of charge. Watch our video from last year’s Barber Beast on the Bay Adapted Course.

I’m so proud the Barber National Institute began the Beast on the Bay to bring awareness and focus on the capabilities and courage of persons with disabilities.

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All Inclusive Sports – Fact or Fiction?


TOPSoccer participant

Who were you cheering for in the FIFA World Cup? Throughout the world, all attention was drawn to the final game. As I watch these elite athletes who have trained their entire lives to have the opportunity to be in this event, I thought about young people with special needs who often enjoy sports, but have limited opportunities to be included. I decided to research what programs are out there. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of programs that I found.

As a St. Mary’s graduate and follower of Notre Dame football since I was three years of age, I was really pleased to hear about how Notre Dame athletes reached out to a 10-year-old boy with autism prior to the start of their summer camp. They visited his home, had dinner and, of course, played football. In

Notre Dame Football Players

Notre Dame Football Players

addition, they told the coach about the young man and on the first day of camp, the coach introduced himself. The other players greeted him with high-fives, smiles and encouragement. Before this experience, he attended the camp for three summers, but barely talked with the other kids and only minimally interacted with the players and other campers. This year he was proud, excited, happy and interacted with enthusiasm.

Other sports such as surfing, soccer and hockey have also reached out to children with

Surfers Healing

Surfers Healing

autism. Pro surfer Israel Paskowitz used his unique talents to develop Surfers Healing, a free one-day surf camp in which professional surfers teach children with autism. Three thousand children on an annual basis participate in 22 camps across the country. Although we don’t have a camp in Erie, it would be great to travel to one of their sites to have Ryan participate.

Another program to consider is US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer. A community based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities and organized by youth soccer association volunteers. The program is designed to bring the opportunity of learning and playing soccer to any boy or girl who has a mental or physical disability.

In 2012, Kevin Gilroy, a Boston University men’s ice hockey player, founded Athletes 4



Autism to help children with autism after his involvement with teaching a local hockey clinic for children with special needs. He worked with The Autism Research Foundation (TARF) to establish an inclusion program that would benefit children with autism by hosting athletic clinics taught by college athletes. “My future vision for Athletes 4 Autism is to have a place where kids can just come and be themselves, with and without disabilities,” Gilroy said. “They learn that just because a kid has autism doesn’t mean that he can’t play hockey or he can’t play sports. Everybody can play.”

I’m planning to share my blog with the directors of the local college athletic programs, as well as the Erie Seawolves and Bayhawks. Perhaps they would be willing to explore similar programs using these models. I’d encourage you to investigate the opportunities in your community and share these success stories, which promote an inclusive sports environment.

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Ready, Set, Go! New Study About Running and Helping Children with Autism

Maureen and Ryan running

Ryan and I running together during a Mother’s Day run.

In past blogs, I discussed the importance of intense physical activity for children with autism and special needs. That’s why I was excited to read about a study with the Achilles International and Cigna Foundation to evaluate how running can help children with autism. Although it is in its early stages, it is hoped that the research will yield insights into how physical activity can improve certain symptoms of ASD.

Achilles International, founded in 1983, is a group that allows people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletic events. Initially serving adults with physical disabilities, today Achilles Kids offers running, walking and rolling programs for children with autism and cognitive disabilities.

The Achilles Kids: Races  and Workouts program provides training activities that integrate free-play, games, and nutritious snacks to make the experience fun.  In New York, children with disabilities are given the opportunity to compete alongside able-bodied children in the Road Runners Club’s Pee Wee races.

I was also fascinated to read about OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAchilles Kids: Run to Learn program, which was developed in 1995 by Achilles International. The program consists of a series of physical and educational activities that integrate educational challenges and games with running, walking, rolling, or other forms of movement to encourage and motivate children to participate in regular physical activity.

It is based on a real 26.2 mile marathon, but done virtually. In a year-long gym activity, children do a number of laps each week. The laps are counted and converted into miles, and then charted as a 26.2 mile route on a map of their town. While the children are tackling the long-term accomplishment of completing the marathon, they are also realizing short-term achievements based on meeting weekly goals. In addition, it also incorporated math, English, science and nutrition.

achilles 2Achilles Kids: Run to Learn is currently in over 150 schools in the U.S. with approximately 3,500 kids participating. I am requesting more information about the program. Perhaps we could establish a Run To Learn at the BNI.

To request more information about the Learn to Run program or find a Achilles International program near you, visit Achilles International‘s website or call 212-354-0300 x305.

Achilles Internationals programs are a great tool for breaking down barriers and raising awareness.



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“My Job Chart”

All of us hope our children will have a strong work ethic. When Ryan was a toddler I would sing the “Clean Up” song to remind him that play time was over and he needed to put his toys away. Regardless of his age, he always had a list of “jobs” that were his responsibility to complete. Today, he continues to assume responsibility for various jobs within the house: watering the plants, sweeping, emptying the dishwasher, making his bed and taking out the trash. His days are full with two jobs — working in maintenance at Bello’s Grocery Store and BNI. He tells me he wants to work hard so that he can earn money for movies, skiing, golf, LECOM and other fun activities. His work ethic is admirable and he receives praise from his supervisor for his dedication and hard work.

Ryan - computer reinforcer

Ryan using the computer as a reinforcer.

One of the tools I had used to encourage his compliance with chore responsibilities was a job chart, which is why I was intrigued when I recently came across MyJobChart.com. This online tool provides an interactive “chore” system that teaches children the concepts that promote independence. The parent identifies the jobs to be completed, assigns points for each job, and, with their child, establishes rewards. The child then logs on with his/her own password and selects the job to be completed. Once completed, the child receives points that can be converted into dollars that are saved, spent or donated to charity.   The parents are also notified when the child has completed the task and has selected a reward.

With over 687,000 members, My Job Chart has shown itself to be the modern equivalent of an old fashioned sticker chart. We know that our children enjoy using technology, and this site not only engages them, but teaches them responsibility, accountability, money management and problem solving — essential skills for individuals of all ages. This site is free for families and can be used with Apple and Android apps.

Try it and let me know if it works for your family.

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Fireworks and Safety – Can the Two Go Together?

fireworksLast year, my July 4th blog offered you tips for an autism-friendly Independence Day. This year I’m discussing safety.  As with all holidays, there are many activities, but with the 4th of July we think immediately of fireworks.

However, many community firework displays are being eliminated or cut back due to economic conditions, and families are purchasing fireworks for their own backyard celebrations.

Each year thousands of children and teenagers continue to be injured while fireworks injuryusing fireworks. Some guidelines to follow:

  • Keep back a safe distance away when fireworks are being used.
  • Keep water or a garden hose available and ready to use.
  • Do not buy fireworks for your children and NEVER let them light the fireworks.
  • Even sparklers require direct adult supervision as sparklers can get up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, equivalent of a blow torch.
  • Teach your children to have a healthy respect for fireworks.

Safety is always my number one priority. Make sure it is yours as well so that you and your family can have a safe and fun 4th of July.  I wish you a very Happy 4th of July.

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