By Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
People diagnosed as “on the spectrum” are suddenly in demand by employers including computer software company SAP and home financing firm Freddie Mac. But Livermore-based Ratermann Manufacturing, Inc. is decades ahead of the curve — employing adult clients from Morgan Autism Center to its workforce since 1989.
It was then that George Ratermann, president of the company, was living next to Morgan Autism Center client Johann (“John”) F. who was about 20 years old.
“I was talking to his mother … and I said, ‘We have this product, and it might be something John could put together himself,’” Ratermann recalls of how the partnership began. “I just saw my next door neighbor and … I thought it was pretty hard for him to get a job otherwise. It really was quite that simple of a thought.”
But John’s mom thought more people could benefit from the opportunity to assemble custom imprinted “T-35 Ring Tags,” marked “EMPTY” on one side and “FULL” on the other. The rings are slipped around the neck of cylinders to identify whether they need refilling, while also advertising companies.
“One thing that’s really cool is we actually pay checks for these guys,” George says. “…We took a realistic average, which was probably below what someone on the assembly line could do, and made it a per piece price.”
In 2009, the percent of young adults with autism who had a job was nearly half that of all young adults with disabilities (33 percent vs. 59 percent).
Over the years, upward of 13 adults and an average of eight to nine adults have participated in the assembly line activity at Morgan Autism Center.
“I’ve been doing rings for 20-plus years and I’m the one that got the job started!” John F. proudly states. “I can do the metal clips and there are only a few people who can do that.”
The job has also evolved since its start.
It began with George’s wife stopping by the school and dropping off the necessary materials for clients to assemble at which point they would turn around and return them to Ratermann, who completed orders and shipped them to the customers.
“Now they receive it, they assemble it, they package it and they ship it directly,” George explains of the changes implemented 10 years ago.
The activity allows clients to work as little as 15 minutes or as much as a couple hours.
“We have some very large orders that you guys do that is usually 20 to 30 orders a month,” George says. “The very custom orders are probably 10 to 20 batches a month.”
Participating clients share their thoughts about having the opportunity to work for Ratermann.
“The ring job makes me feel like I’m reaching out to businesses and people and showing them what I can do,” Jeff J. says.
“I really like doing the job and getting paid and George Ratterman,” she says.
George says the work goes beyond what is accomplished for Ratermann, and more about the relationships forged along the way.
“The whole purpose is so people feel empowerment and feel productive,” George concludes. “There is a pride in ownership and in receiving a paycheck.”
By Nena Montgomery, Board Chair
Editor’s note: This is the first spotlight article in an ongoing series about our dynamic and diverse Board of Directors. The new feature in our monthly e-newsletter is an opportunity for you to gain insight into their inspiring stories of success and the reasons they consistently volunteer and give back to Morgan Autism Center.
So you might ask – what does the MAC Board do? The eight people currently serving on the Board of Directors meet once a month (with the exception of December and August) to carry out the mission of Morgan Autism Center, stated on our website:
“Our mission is to help children and adults with autism or other developmental disabilities maximize their potential in a dignified, positive and loving environment.”
We work closely with Executive Director, Brad Boardman, to ensure that all aspects of the center run smoothly. Brad updates the entire Board once a month about ongoing issues such as staffing, program development, enrollment, regional center engagement, and outreach to the larger Santa Clara community or success stories. We have also invited various teachers to come and speak to us about their individual classrooms.
Financial stability of the organization, which is a non-profit, is a priority so we work with the Development Committee and Finance Committee to ensure we have robust fundraising as well as adhere to reporting guidelines. It is important for parents to remember that the reason they don’t have to individually pay for the costs of their child/children attending Morgan Autism Center is due to those costs being borne by the Regional Centers and educational school districts. Our fundraising enhances all the programs that the center offers our children in addition to maintaining funds for our primary goal — to one day purchase a permanent site. Additionally, in conjunction with the Executive Director, we set strategic goals for the organization.
Every member of the Board serves as volunteers in this capacity in addition to on separate committees. I am Chairwoman of the Board and also serve on the Major Gifts Committee. Member Ted Moorhead is also on the Major Gifts Committee. Vice Chairman Thomas Caulfield (parent of Thomas) is on the Major Gifts Committee and Board Recruitment Committee; Member Lindley Zink is on the Board Recruitment Committee; Member Ruth Cook advises on grants; Member Christopher Escher (parent of Johnny) heads up our Communications Committee; and Members Rickey Green and Barbara Wright serve on the Finance Committee.
Some of us are parents, some teachers, some have financial expertise and others have marketing, fundraising or public relations experience. Regardless of background, we are all dedicated to maintaining the qualities that make Morgan Autism Center the special place it is — passionate people who serve our students and adult clients and their families to create possibilities.
We look forward to telling you more about each one of these dedicated people that serve on the Board in future issues of the e-newsletter.
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.