Community Integration Program Director Flo Fuller and adult client Brian H. remember July 5, 1994 like it was yesterday.
It was then the two started their first day at Morgan Autism Center — one as an employee and the other as a 10-year-old student — joining in Room 2 at the former Covington Elementary School site.
“What do you remember about our first day at Morgan Center?” Flo asked during an interview with Brian as part of their 20th anniversary celebration in July.
“I liked it right away,” Brian responded, before sharing the many activities he recalled. “I liked making lunch every Wednesday in Room 2. … I liked it every Wednesday and I wanted to keep it forever.”
He continued: “You used to get me off the bus. … You were nice and sweet and kind and would take me recycling and to the bookstore. She used to babysit me when my parents went out and I did not want to go.”
Brian then asked Flo to recall their start together. “What do you remember of when we first met?” Brian asked.
Flo responded: “I remember meeting you. … You were a really cute and curious boy. You were really talkative. You used to love swinging really high on the swings at recess, singing at the top of your lungs songs like ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Amazing Grace.’ You were really into Safeways and the layouts of different stores.”
She continued: “You used to find it interesting how the staff drank different coffees, like cappuccinos and lattes. And you decided to create your own drink, the Foxaccino! Do you remember this?”
Brian responded: “Yes. It was orange like a fox. For my birthday the staff got me one and brought it back to the classroom and I drank it there!”
Both Brian and Flo still work together 20 years later, instead in the Adult Program at Morgan Autism Center, now located in the Rose Garden district of San Jose.
“Can you believe it has been 20 years already?” Flo asks.
Brian responds simply: “Yes. It’s a good thing.”
By Mark Nielsen and Julie Asamoto, Room 15 and 16 teachers
Benji came to Morgan Autism Center in August 2008 as a highly energetic 9-year-old boy who had challenges sitting in a chair or attending to a given task.
He was very playful and enjoyed climbing on the playground and exploring his environment, although he did not always take safety into account. Many people remember him as the daredevil on a Razor scooter.
Benji began in Room 19 with teacher Brian, who worked hard to develop functional skills that would serve him down the line. Benji’s overflowing energy stayed with him through his transition to Room 15 with teacher Jason, where he began going out into the community more and learning how to control his impulses. However, he continued to be fascinated by jumping off high structures.
Benji’s love of jumping led to an unfortunate incident where he jumped from an unsafe height and broke his foot on the weekend.
It was a challenging time for him, because his mobility was greatly hindered. However, being forced to slow his body down seemed to have a lasting effect on him.
Over the course of his time in Room 15, Benji matured into a very personable, mellow young man, who greatly enjoys spending time with his family while going for long walks and to the beach.
He is often found with a magazine, looking at pictures of cars and landscapes — perhaps planning future travel. He is wonderfully cooperative and easy-going, and a reliable helper when shopping at the store.
Benji began his move to Room 16 in the summer of this last school year. Room 16 is a transitional setting for students ages 16 to 21, providing them increased opportunity for small group instruction, and vocational training on and off the school campus.
Benji has been a most welcome addition to our classroom and fits in well with the active, social and community-oriented aspects of our program. He seems to be very comfortable and happy since his arrival, and has jumped right in to help out with tasks such as washing dishes, grocery shopping and gardening.
We have only known Benji for a short while here in Room 16, but we get the feeling that he recognizes his accomplishments and how far he has come, and is ready to move on to the next stage of his experience here at Morgan Autism Center.
By Shannon Carr
Communications & Social Media Specialist
More than 200 people converged at Morgan Autism Center’s 13th Annual Conference, Sept. 20, at the Campbell Heritage Theatre to gain insight from professionals on a continual journey alongside parents and families of those with autism.
“When you get the diagnosis of autism, you set out on a journey,” Dr. Barry Prizant, an adjunct professor at Brown University and director of the private practice Childhood Communication Services, said during his keynote presentation.
“We all play these different roles and these roles are magnified when you have a child with special needs,” Barry continued.
During his talk, he shared videos and stories from those he has worked with during his more than 40 years experience as a scholar, researcher and international consultant for individuals with autism, and emotional and behavioral disabilities and their families.
Other speakers included:
• Nick Homer of Miceli Financial Partners, who spoke about the financial impact on families of those with special needs.
• Dr. Grace Gengoux presented “From first words to first friends: Pivotal Response Treatment strategies for parents and professionals.”
• Dr. Gayle Windham, Dr. Joachim Hallmayer and Jill Escher shared their expertise during the panel “The latest in autism research: Genetics, epigenetics and the environment.”
• Kris McCann, Jan Stokley, Mark Gilfix and Anna Wang shared their expertise during the panel “Housing for adults with autism and developmental disabilities.”
• Dr. Ruth O’Hara presented “Sleep in children with ASD: A treatment opportunity.”
“Morgan Autism’s 13th Annual Conference was a great community gathering,” Executive Director Brad Boardman said. “The variety of topics discussed provided valuable information to parents, teachers, SLPs (Speech Language Pathologists), medical professionals and other service providers. In particular, we were pleased that subject matter covered childhood through adulthood.”
Morgan Autism Center would like to thank the many conference supporters, led by Presenting Sponsor Star One Credit Union. Others included Silver Sponsor Valley Medical Center Foundation and Bronze Sponsors Friends of Children with Special Needs, Gilbert Family Trust, Kiwanis Club Foundation of Menlo Park and Ratermann Manufacturing, Inc.
When I trained to be a teacher, my focus was on working with kids. I received very little training about the relationships I would forge with families. As a college student, I could never have imagined the number of nights of sleep I would lose worrying about the adults attached to the children and adult clients I serve. Yet these adults and the relationships that come with them have, for me, amplified the depth and meaning of an already fulfilling career.
Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Barry Prizant — director of Childhood Communication Services and adjunct professor at Brown University — came to speak at Morgan Autism Center’s (MAC) 13th Annual Conference. I drove him from the airport to his hotel, a little over an hour in the car. While I am usually nervous about meeting world-renowned autism experts, this time I was in fanboy mode; Dr. Barry was coming to talk about “Fostering positive parent/professional relationships.”
I studied his notes in preparation for the event and was just plain excited that this topic would be a main feature of the conference. This aspect of teaching is almost entirely (certainly in my experience) overlooked in credential programs. It seems that schools, districts and teachers alike are stymied by how to create meaningful and collaborative relationships. And yet my belief is that family and professional relationships are some of the factors that matter most in special education, and maybe in teaching in general. Dr. Barry and I discussed the essential components of strong relationships, the possible pitfalls and what we can do as professionals to help parents on their journey with their child. I enjoyed our conversation so much that I crossed over to Interstate 280 via State Route 92 hoping to keep him talking a little longer.
I have always believed that we at MAC are extremely lucky. We spend multiple years with families and our philosophy encourages teachers and families to communicate, to get to know one another and to meet and collaborate outside of formal meetings. Teachers often find themselves in the position of trusted confidante, autism guide, difficult conversation starter and family friend.
Over the course of my conversation with Dr. Barry, I found myself reflecting on the pride I feel about MAC — in particular our teachers. They understand the power of trust and work hard to gain meaningful and long-lasting trust from their family relationships. And, as should be the case with any professional conference, I was simultaneously bubbling with new ideas on how MAC can do it that little bit better.
For articles, resources or more information about Dr. Barry Prizant, visit http://www.Barryprizant.com
By Brad Boardman, MAC Executive Director
Communication is one of the cornerstones of Morgan Autism Center programming and is key in helping many of our students with behavioral challenges. The transformative power of communication is demonstrated by a quote from a letter of recommendation written to the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CSHA). In it, parents Brad and Paola Davenport write: “Although Cameron still cannot speak, he can communicate and he can be heard. Morgan Autism Center gave Cameron his voice. We cannot think of a better qualification than this to win The Program of the Year Award. …”
The letter goes on to read, “We witnessed first-hand, in and out of the classroom, our child transform from a frustrated boy to a calm and happy child who felt heard. Within weeks, Cameron was communicating complete sentences through his device and figuring out how to find words in the device faster than any of the adults working with him.”
On March 28, through a process of nomination, site visits and letters like the Davenports’, CSHA recognized Morgan Autism Center as its Program of the Year at their state convention. This is an extremely prestigious award and MAC is truly proud to be honored by this amazing organization of professionals.
MAC serves many individuals who are nonverbal or have very limited use of verbal language. For these individuals, we are living in an exciting time, as new technology-based communication tools are coming on the market and are constantly evolving toward ease of use. At MAC, we work very hard to create an environment where student communication is expected and valued.
However it is no simple task to implement these communication solutions! Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) and our Alternative Augmentative Communication consultant must stay in tune with new developments and learn to program and use a variety of devices to customize the solution for each individual. SLPs and teachers must work together with staff to make sure communication is happening across the child’s school day, not only during speech. Families must also be trained on the devices and, sometimes, SLPs help families navigate funding through insurance.
While there is no doubt that current technology is amazing, obviously there is so much more to making genuine communicative leaps. In order for any solution to work, there must be a culture that embraces and moves forward with the solution. Parents, staff, teachers, SLPs, friends and others must embrace the possibilities and seize every available communication opportunity. There must be perseverance, passion and — of course — patience. MAC is proud to be a part of our students’ learning environment.
By Flo Fuller
Community Integration Director
As part of our Community Integration Program, the Morgan Autism Center Adult Program has been receiving monthly flower donations from United Wholesale Flowers for more than a year and a half.
We look forward to driving to the San Jose warehouse in our van to pick up the boxes of donated flowers. During that time the clients enjoy walking around to see what new displays might be there, especially the holiday ones.
Manny, one of the staff there, is always happy to help us and get the flowers ready. Even on the busiest days, he greets us with a big smile and spends some time chatting with our group.
Once we come back to MAC, our clients get to work making beautiful bouquets, which they then deliver to different recipients in the community we have partnered with or who have offered their services. The recipients include paramedics, a nursing home, Guadalupe Park employees, Costco Bakery, San Jose State speech clinicians and Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) and neighbors.
This year Development Associate Lisa Lemke thought it might be nice for a few people from our group to make the flower arrangements for our annual gala celebration and fundraiser Starry Starry Night. Manny was more than willing to meet with us and guide us through which flowers would be most suitable and easy to work with. We were lucky to have Aya Sasaki, an employee in the Adult Program, on our team as she was able to put her creative talent to work and help us pick out a color scheme for the arrangements.
Together with Lemke they created a mock arrangement, which we then used as a model for our group.
The day before our fundraiser, Sasaki organized everything and created different workstations. John, one of our adult clients, was enthusiastic about filling up buckets of water while Angel and Jeff were quick to open boxes and throw away all the trash; Andrew was precise in measuring and placing the marbles/glass beads at the bottom of each vase; Boris was thorough in putting just enough water in the completed vases and putting them in a box for transport; Wanda and Christie created many beautiful arrangements; Tish and Julian helped take out all the dead leaves off the stems; and Scott grabbed flowers out of the buckets to help move things along. It was a very busy and very productive day in the Adult Program and all 35 vases were completed right before our dismissal time!
The arrangements were a big success at our event and looked beautiful on the gold tablecloths. They were sold for $10 each as part of our fundraiser and attendees were quick to grab them at the end of the night.
Thank you United Wholesale Flowers and thank you Manny for giving us the opportunity to further our skills and be a part of the community!
By Brad Boardman, MAC Executive Director
Morgan Autism Center continues the successful partnership it forged with Children’s Discovery Museum (CDM) in 2012. At that time, museum staff reached out to the center for advice about an event they wanted to host specifically for families affected by autism.
In order to ensure that their event would be successful, CDM assembled a task force made up of parents and community service providers. This group of people met with CDM staff to brainstorm a list of necessary tools, strategies, accommodations and trainings to make for an engaging, supportive and positive learning experience at the museum.
“We learned that children with autism … might avoid a bustling, noisy museum and often require careful preparation before venturing to a crowded public space,” CDM Business Development Manager Donna Butcher said.
Initial meetings identified multiple areas to target including providing quiet areas, creating social stories to prepare individuals for a new experience, exhibit tweaks, possible outdoor areas, food issues and — of course — staff training. CDM took the advice of parents and community partners very seriously.
Morgan Autism Center was included in the staff and volunteer training phase of the preparation. It has now held two evening trainings (most recently in January) to discuss autism, some of the possible challenges for visitors and how staff and volunteers can help make museum visits successful.
“The result of the staff training that you (MAC) did was an increased comfort level and better understanding for the autistic community as a whole and a greater level of understanding for the visitors who come through our doors,” Butcher said.
She continued: “This helped our staff not only for the Play Your Way events but the snowball effect from these events has resulted in more families with autism visiting the museum during regular hours, so the staff are better equipped to make their visit a joyful success.”
Since 2012, Children’s Discovery Museum has hosted six Play Your Way events (with a goal of three per year), designed for children with autism — ages 2 through 15 — and their families. The events were made possible by the participation and support of the following community partners: San Andreas Regional Center, HOPE Services, Aspiranet, Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, Pacific Autism Center for Education, Morgan Autism Center and Parents! The next event is scheduled for April 12.
It has truly been exciting for MAC to be a part of these Play Your Way trainings. CDM staff and volunteers are an extremely engaged and inquisitive group of people — just what you might expect from people involved in a museum! Their obvious desire to serve the entire community, in the end, is what makes these events so successful.
Want to attend the next Play Your Way event? Purchase your ticket TODAY!