The workshop was sponsored by the Very Special Arts (VSA) and the Kennedy Center Institute. Two of our staff, Ann Ellison, MA, BCBA and Cindy Priester, OTR/L, MS offered an overview on autism with an emphasis on principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Their overview and applicable techniques were brought to life for participants by the artists -Rand Whipple from Box of Light Studies and Siobhan Peterson-Walsh, dance/movement instructor in Erie.
It’s easiest to think of UDL by considering sidewalk curbs or curb cuts. Curb cuts in sidewalks were originally conceived to assist individuals in wheelchairs with navigating up and down sidewalks. However, once installed on street corners, mothers with baby carriages, kids on bikes, and professionals with suitcases on wheels found the curb cuts equally beneficial. Soon, followers of universal design realized the modifications incorporated for people with disabilities actually benefited all users.
UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials and assessments that work for everyone. Not a one-size-fits-all solution, but flexible approaches that can be customized for individual needs. This was demonstrated through the arts using digital media and dance/movement.
Rand Whipple taught us how to use the digital arts. Programs such as iMovie, iBooks and iComic were used to create scripting and narrative stories to teach behavior, as well as allow students to use a new artistic medium. These are very easy to learn for the non-techie and definitely a tool for parents and teachers.
Dance instructor Siobhan Peterson-Walsh shared movement exercises that promote health, wellness, social and imitation skills. The importance of reinforcement was highly stressed and exampled throughout the course. Now I know how to teach skipping and galloping.
Workshops are being held across Pennsylvania. I encourage you to find one near you! This is a great opportunity to bring the arts to children with special needs.