Community organizations like the Autism Society, Newfoundland Labrador (ASNL), have a variety of resources available to assist educators, administrators, and students in understanding and supporting those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Through its headquarters at the Elaine Dobbin Centre, St. John’s, and across the island at regional centres in Clarenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, and Corner Brook, ASNL offers education, outreach, awareness, and advocacy to professionals, families, caregivers and individuals affected by autism. The following outlines just some of the resources made available to educators with the goal of raising autism awareness and creating an inclusive community for those on the spectrum.
Classroom Awareness Presentations
Outreach staff from ASNL provide fun and meaningful classroom presentations about what it means for someone to have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and how that diagnosis can impact them as a student and as a friend. Designed according to grade level, these engaging presentations use age-appropriate stories, videos, games, and discussions to educate students and create understanding and empathy among peers.
Through Sesame Street at the primary level, and pop culture at the high school level, relatable material is used to show the varying ways in which a person with autism may experience his or her diagnosis. Staff may use simulations to help peers understand the differences in sensory processing and play games centred on assumptions we make in communication to help explain why individuals with ASD sometimes act or communicate a certain way. Staff also provide tips on how students can be supportive to their peers on the spectrum and some ways to approach new friendships. All presentations conclude with a question and answer period where students can ask any additional questions they may have. These presentations are inclusive and sensitive in nature and are designed for all students in the classroom, including those on the spectrum.
Barbara J. Hopkins Library
The Barbara J. Hopkins Library offers a wide variety of resources related to Autism Spectrum Disorder. Extensive literature is available including curriculum, behaviour strategies, research, diet, sensory processing, and co-occurring diagnoses, including materials published by authors with ASD. The collection also includes many children’s books and videos about having autism, or having a family member or friend with autism. In addition to borrowing print materials, the library offers DVD collections, games, and special equipment related to sensory or learning needs, as well as technological devices for trial and learning purposes. Â Staff are available to help guide members in locating specific resources and educate on the use and application of various materials.
Although the Barbara J. Hopkins library is housed at the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism in St. John’s, materials can be accessed across the province via the library’s online and mailing service through the ASNL website. Hundreds of families, professionals, and individuals with ASD access library services every year; ASNL’s annual membership is the only requirement. Additionally, if a particular resource is not available, members are encouraged to contact ASNL as resources are continuously being sourced and updated.
Professional Development & Training
Professionals at ASNL can support school board personnel in providing educators with general information about ASD as a diagnosis, and effective strategies to support students on the spectrum. Â Professional development sessions can be tailored to meet the specific needs of a school or educator demographic, and focus on the unique attributes and learning styles of this group of students.
Through understanding ASD characteristics shared across all levels of diagnostic impact, educators can utilize specific tools to address common challenges and help students cope with stressors in the environment; increasing their ability to access the intended curriculum. Similarly, understanding challenging behaviours from an ASD perspective often reveals common misunderstandings and assumptions made in general behaviour modification that can prove ineffective or counterproductive with this population. Focussing on why a student with ASD may be struggling or not meeting his/her potential requires a different lens and problem-solving from that perspective can have an incredible impact on student pride and performance.
Conferences & Workshops
ASNL offers several opportunities for professionals, families, and those with an interest in ASD to further their education and training through workshops and/or conferences presented by ASD professionals. Each year ASNL hosts a professional development opportunity designed primarily for educators which is presented by renowned leaders in the field of autism. In addition to the annual conference, ASNL hosts a variety of presentations and workshops offered throughout the year by local professionals concerning such topics as: financial/estate planning, naturopathic resources, diet and nutrition, post-secondary information, inclusive hiring and workplace practices, new and upcoming research, assistive technology, panel discussions, and advocacy training.
Individuals requesting particular forms of professional development or training are encouraged to contact ASNL as the organization is always evaluating various educational opportunities and attempts to be responsive to the needs of the community.
Education and understanding are the first steps in creating a truly inclusive environment where forms of diversity are not only accepted and supported, but embraced. Sometimes the most powerful help we can provide to our students doesn’t come in the form of direct supports, but rather in putting an emphasis on taking the time to educate ourselves and others about what diversity and inclusion really means.