Summer and Spending Time Outdoors

Summer at last!

Summer was always very exciting when I was a child. My family would set aside Wednesdays for trips to Conneaut Lake Park. Our favorite ride, which we went on again and again, was the Blue Streak. But mostly, our summer vacations were always spent outside playing with the neighborhood kids, bicycling, red rover, and games of croquet. We did not have video games to temp us into staying indoors, thank goodness!


Once Ryan was in school, the arrival of summertime meant: no more homework, “sleeping in” to 7am, and lots of opportunities to be outside. Ryan always was so happy to be outdoors after spending the last 9 months in school classrooms.

To be sure, I never knew who was more thrilled…Ryan or me!

Of course, there was my major concern:  Would I be able to find someone to be with Ryan during the weekdays while I worked??

We had tried the usual camps (unsuccessfully, I might add!), so beginning in April, I would look for a college student who wanted a summer job. Usually the students were special education majors hoping for experience that they could include on their resumes.

Ryan 2017 Beast

This solution was a win-win, as it was great for Ryan because I would recruit a young man (who could be a peer), who had similar interests and liked to swim, play basketball, run, hike, and generally spend most of the day outdoors.

Summer is a wonderful time for all children, especially for children on the autism spectrum.  There are increased opportunities to learn and practice their social skills and perhaps meet new friends, which often can be a challenge.

For Ryan, summer allowed him to practice skills that he had learned at school in various community environments.  Exposure to a variety of settings as well as people also enabled him to expand his coping skills and work through his anxiety issues.

So what’s on the agenda for summer 2019?  Golf, swimming, kayaking, and hiking—if only it warms up!ryan-golf

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Highlights of the 2018-2019 School Year

Tuesday was the last day of school at the Barber National Institute. We had such a remarkable year with so many outstanding accomplishments! As I look back over the last nine months, many come to mind:

  • Our Erie Arts and Culture residency program which featured creative dance instructor, Shari Mastalski, M.A. Over a period of 20 days, Shari worked with our students exploring how creative dance creates an environment to learn body and space movement, listening, focus, and relationship building.

Shari Mastalski, M.A.

  • Trisha Yates and the Erie Playhouse. During our second semester, Trisha met weekly with our students as they prepared for the production of the book, “The Rainbow Fish.” Our opening premiere was May 23rd at the Erie Playhouse and they “wowed” the audience! You could see the enthusiasm and excitement on the students’ faces as they received a standing ovation from the packed auditorium. 


    Trisha Yates at “The Rainbow Fish” premiere 

  • Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports. With a goal of promoting a positive culture in our school, faculty learned proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors.
  • Collaboration with Notre Dame and robot therapy. In one of our projects, Notre Dame students programmed the robot according to a script of activities regarding expectations of how to act in a group. While interacting with the students, the robot demonstrated appropriate behaviors and the students would then model the robot’s behaviors. Some examples are to keep hands and feet quiet in a group and to look into the eyes of a person talking. They loved their robot visits! For next year, we are considering some games that the robot will play with our students to increase joint attention.


    Interacting with the robot

My highlights could go on and on…so much has happened in the Elizabeth Lee Black School! I am truly grateful for our outstanding faculty who day in and day out “make dreams come true” for our children and their families, and the Erie community at large who believes and supports our mission!

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Safari Soirée

On June 7th, the Barber National Institute is sponsoring, Safari Soirée, its annual Expanding Social Opportunities (ESO) Prom. ESO dances are a fun, positive event for adults with Autism or Intellectual Disabilities to enjoy an evening of dancing and friendship with their peers from Edinboro, Penn State Behrend, Gannon, and Mercyhurst Universities.  It’s hard to believe these dances started 18 years! The Bel-Aire Hotel is the host for this year’s Safari Soirée.


With Ryan at the 2018 prom

We anticipate over 200 adults and 100+ volunteers this Friday night.  If you ask any of the attendees why they enjoy the prom, you will get many diverse responses:

  • I get the opportunity to wear a very fancy dress.
  • It’s a special night with my friends.
  • I like dancing to fast songs.
  • I get to make many new friends.
  • I think the snacks are delicious.

Erie continues to be a very generous community. We have been receiving donations of suits and dresses since January. Additional sponsors include:

  • The Bel-Aire Hotel
  • Corry Veterans of Foreign War
  • Curtze Food Service
  • Planet Hope, California

So, if you want to “dance up a storm” this Friday night, join us at Safari Soirée!

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Better Speech and Hearing Month

I asked Amy Moczulski, M.A., CCC-SLP, who is a speech-language pathologist at BNI to write this guest blog for Better Speech and Hearing Month.  She serves as department chair, and I thought she would have invaluable input!


When the staff at the Elizabeth Lee Black School thinks about May, they likely think of walks outside, time on the playground, the end of the school year nearing, or teacher/staff appreciation week, but for the speech-language pathologists, we also think of Better Speech and Hearing Month.


Our Speech Department at BNI

Better Speech and Hearing Month is celebrated every May, and it is a way to bring more awareness to our field to let people know a little bit more about what we do every day. When people ask me what I do for a living, I often get the response, “So you work on getting kids to say ‘R’?” or “You work on getting people to talk.” While those things may be true, the field of speech-language pathology is incredibly diverse. Speech-language pathologists assess, diagnose, treat and help to prevent disorders related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice, swallowing and fluency in individuals of all ages, from birth to the elderly. While speech-language pathologists work in the school setting, you will also find SLPs working in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities, private practice, day care centers, or in the home setting. So whether an SLP is working with a newborn in the NICU on feeding, teaching a professional singer proper vocal techniques to save his/her voice, working on cognition with an individual with dementia, or providing someone with augmentative and alternative communication, the goal remains the same: to help people achieve goals to enhance skills for optimal social and life participation.

Amy Moczulski, M.A., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist at the Barber National Institute’s approved private school for ten years, where she serves as the department chair. She obtained her M.A. degree from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. Amy has worked with individuals on the autism spectrum for the past 18 years and has a particular interest in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Amy spends her time away from work with her husband and their two sons who are seven and four.

Please take a look at some resources and helpful tips related to Better Speech and Hearing Month.


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Rainbow Fish & the Arts at ELBS

There is a buzz circulating in our school this week as we prepare for the 2019 performance of “The Rainbow Fish” at the Erie Playhouse on Thursday.  This is our second year for performing on the main stage at the Playhouse.  We have been working with them for a number of years but until last year our performances were on the stage in our gym. When it was suggested that we actually perform at the Playhouse, our students and staff were nervous. What would it be like being on a “real” stage and looking out at our audience?  But, the students were wonderful so it is back to the Playhouse this Thursday.rainbow-fish.png

The Arts have always played an integral role at the Barber National Institute and our school. In some schools the fine or performing arts fall by the wayside as the focus is on academic goals, data, and standards.  But, not at the ELBS. We believe and research has consistently demonstrated that involvement in the arts increases student achievement across all subject areas as well as social and adaptive skills. In addition, medical studies have found that participation in the creative arts reduces stress which in turn enhances the ability to learn.  Since many of our children struggle with anxiety, this is especially important.

So we are in the countdown to show time!  If you are free Thursday afternoon at 12:30, join us at the Erie Playhouse. I can promise you that it will be a memorable and inspiring hour.

A special thanks to Erie Arts and Culture for funding this project and to Trisha Yates, our drama coach Director and chief cheerleader! You are making dreams come true for our children!

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Mother’s Day, by Ryan Carey

I thought that I’d write my Mother’s Day blog by asking Ryan, “Tell me about your mom.” These are his responses. They are in the order that he spoke.

~ Maureen

She is nice to me.

She helps me out.

She takes me to golfing, to the movies, bowling, LECOM, Kahkwa, and out to eat.

She takes me out once a month for my special activities.

She helps me with money.

She helps me make my bed.

She lets me talk about heaven, flu shots, people.

She takes me to church.

She helps me vote.

She helps me be kind.

She is really pretty like some other girls.

She treats me with respect.

She makes my meals.

She teaches me how to follow God’s laws

She takes me to get the flu shot the day after the Beast at 9:00 AM at Wegmans.

She helps me be my best.

She loves me more than anyone in the world.

I am lucky to have you as my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.

by Ryan Carey

mothers day

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Social Skills Building, Friendships and Summer Fun Combine for a Great Experience at Connections Camp: Guest Blog by Anne Marz

I asked one of BNI’s own staff, Anne Marz, who is the Director of Behavioral Health, to write a guest blog about Connections Camp that is held from the end of June through the beginning of August. It is an excellent program to help children develop age appropriate social skills through fun activities while making friends.


Socialization is not just a fun aspect of daily living, but an important characteristic of building relationships, communicating with others and achieving success. Social Skills are a feature of everything we do, but can be more challenging for children on the Autism Spectrum.

So it is not surprising that over 10 years ago, a group of parents came to me and said that their sons and daughters wanted to go to camp but had been unsuccessful at the local day camps. The question they posed was “What could the Barber National Institute offer them”? And so began Connections Camp!

connections camp 3

Connections Camp serves children and adolescents ages 5 through 18 with an Autism diagnosis. This year, it will be held at the Erie Day School on 1372 West 6th Street, Wednesday June 26th through Tuesday August 6th. The goal of Connections Camp is to help the campers develop age appropriate social skills. Classroom lessons are developed around weekly themes.  The campers then have the opportunity to practice these skills through fun, therapeutic activities, play and community outings. The themes include:

connections camp

All About You and Camp Safety

Communication/Conversation Skills



Thinking Feeling

Coping Skills/Anger Management

Embracing Differences

Connections Camp is free for Erie County residents. The hours of operation are 9:00 am – 3:00. Before and after camp care is offered from 8:00 am – 9:00 am and 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  Applications are available on the Barber National Institute website and camp staff are available to answer questions at 814-969-2588 or

connections camp 2

I recall our very first year when one of the Moms, with tears in her eyes, came to me on the last day of camp and said that Connections Camp was the first time that her daughter had friends. Hearing that, I knew that we would continue offering Connections Camp every summer as long as there continued to be the need.

Connections Camp is quickly filling up quickly but a few openings still remain. If your child has Autism, and his/her behavior is appropriate for a summer camp environment with a 1-5 adult to child ratio, check out Connections Camp. Lots of progress through lots of fun starts here!

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