Parent volunteer desensitizing students, adults to doctor visits

By Shannon Carr, Communications  & Social Media Specialist
Visiting the doctor’s office can be scary for all young children. For a child with autism, that fear is often compounded by other developmental issues they inherit.

Parent volunteer Ute Ren prepares to take Victor’s blood pressure as part of her desensitizing practice. / Photo by Shannon Carr

Parent volunteer Ute Ren prepares to take Victor’s blood pressure as part of her desensitizing practice. / Photo by Shannon Carr

“About 40 percent of children with (Autism Spectrum Disorder) do not talk at all,” according to the Centers for Disease Control website. “About 25 to 30 percent of children with ASD have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them. Others might speak, but not until later in childhood.”
Ute Ren, a Morgan Autism Center parent, knows the situation all too well.
“Our son is not able to comprehend what will be happening in a doctor’s office,” she says. “So I try to reenact it at home, and to make him familiar with the equipment through repetition.”
Because of this, “the last doctor visit was much better,” Ute says. “I was able to hold the stethoscope against his chest while the doctor was listening.”
Wanting to share this success with other parents, Ute — who is also a retired nurse — implemented the desensitizing practice at Morgan Autism Center nearly a year ago.
“I am so happy to volunteer and hope to develop more programs to help with the preventive care of our kids/adults,” she says.
On a monthly basis, Ute visits with students and adults. She reenacts taking their blood pressure, weighing them on a scale, checking their height and listening to their chest with a stethoscope. This happens all at the individuals’ own pace rather than within the time constraints dealt with at the doctor.
“I try to make the kids and adults familiar with the different equipment they would encounter in a doctor’s office,” Ute says. “Even if it seems like a tiny step, it can accumulate to a skill over time so that our kids can actively participate in their own care.”
In February, she held an in-service with Morgan Autism Center employees about the correct technique using an
EpiPen® Auto-Injector. This is a disposable, pre-filled automatic injection device that administers epinephrine in the event of a severe allergic reaction.
Despite Ute’s work so far, she believes there is more to be done.
“My next project is the dental care of people with a severe developmental disorder,” Ute says. “Most information is geared to patients who have the cognitive ability to follow directions.”
So she is currently gathering more information focused on addressing those needs.
Executive Director Brad Boardman explains his gratification with Ute’s services.
“Doctor’s appointments can be very intrusive for anyone,” he says. “Parents often struggle with getting to medical appointments due to the anxieties their children feel.”
Brad concludes: “This activity is designed to get students comfortable with basic doctor’s office behaviors so that parents can better access the necessary care for their families and to make a trip to the doctor a positive experience for everyone.”

Santa Clara University partnership enables acceptance of those with autism

By Shannon Carr, Communications  & Social Media Specialist

Santa Clara University students are stepping off campus and signing into Morgan Autism Center’s Adult Program for valuable real-life lessons around social justice.
“Making connections beyond the boundaries of their classrooms and our campus, Santa Clara students have found it rewarding to learn with and from the community,” Tam Hixson, Program Director for Santa Clara University’s Community-based Learning, says.

Santa Clara University senior Emily Campi  asks Wanda and Julian and Wanda whether the orange should fall in the “Eat it” or “Yuck, throw it away” category. This is part of the nutrition group she started in the Adult Program while interning through the Arrupe Program.  Photo by  Shannon Carr

Santa Clara University senior Emily Campi asks Wanda and Julian whether the orange should fall in the “Eat it” or “Yuck, throw it away” category. This is part of the nutrition group she started in the Adult Program while interning through the Arrupe Program.
Photo by Shannon Carr

In collaboration with local community organizations and faculty, she co-manages the Arrupe Weekly
Engagement Program and supports the integration of community engagement to meet learning objectives. Tam also co-supervises the Arrupe Internship Program, facilitating paraprofessional development opportunities for a select cohort of interns each year.
“(This is) an opportunity for them to really get out and learn about the realities of the world that we live in in a very direct and meaningful way,” Tam says.
Since its inception in 1986, partnerships have grown from eight community
organizations involving fewer than 100 students in 10 academic courses to almost 60 community partners throughout Santa Clara County who receive nearly 1,200
students each year, according to the website.
“We really do see our partnership with Morgan Autism Center and all of our community partners as mutually beneficial,” Tam says.
Since 2009, Morgan Autism Center has hosted 22 Santa Clara University undergraduate students through Arrupe.
Jennifer Sullivan, former Executive Director of Morgan Autism Center, says there were many reasons for forming the collaboration.
“In 2009, I was introduced to Shirley Okumura from the Arrupe Center,” she
recalls. “It was the year of our 40th anniversary, and she knew about our partnership with Santa Clara University through our conference, the federal grant SCU received because of our partnership and our teaching of the autism seminar in the summer.”
Jennifer continues: “I was always
looking for opportunities to partner with groups outside our campus, like CSMA, Sacred Heart, St. Nicholas, Red Ladder Theater group, YMCA and others. Because we already had a partnership with SCU, when I heard they had a volunteer program and were looking for places for their students to volunteer, Morgan Autism Center seemed an obvious choice.”
Tam says it has been a win-win
relationship for Santa Clara and Morgan Autism Center.
“It has been an integrated educational experience for students,” she says. “…You can imagine, the course is the lens we want them to look at that experience with.”
For example, juniors Will Holtz and Christina Camoriano are both enrolled in the religious course Architects of Solidarity — led by Professor Phillip Boo Riley — for the Winter quarter, which is paired with Morgan Autism Center. They visit every Wednesday for nearly two hours each during the 10-week course.
“It’s based around working with people in the margins; that’s the way our professor likes to say it,” Will explains. “That entails a lot of things, whether it is the homeless and poor or uneducated or here at the Morgan Autism Center.”
Each week, Will and Christina enjoy talking with clients while they have lunch before engaging in music and cooking activities. They finish the remaining two-hour period with board games. Santa Clara Senior Emily Campi has been visiting Morgan Autism Center since September through the Arrupe Internship Program.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with kids on the autism spectrum specifically, so I just kind of wanted to see what life after childhood looked like for people with these types of disabilities,” Emily says. “So when I saw Morgan Autism Center was an option, I was really excited about it.”
She commits six hours per week in the center’s Adult Program.
“She not only helps wherever she is needed, but has also started to implement her interest in health and nutrition by leading small groups twice a week,” Flo Fuller, the center’s Community Integration Director, says. “They are learning about the food pyramid and how to pack healthy lunches.”
Adult client Wanda, who has been a part of this group, says it has been helpful to her. During a recent session, she pulled a form out of her backpack created by Emily. It allows Wanda to record her meals during a weeklong period, also giving her a space to check the appropriate servings of each food group.
“We have been learning even more about foods that are healthy and not healthy, and about how much healthy foods we should eat and not to eat too much junk food or sugar,” Wanda says.
Emily is also planning to start new groups soon at Morgan Autism Center about hygiene and boundaries.
“I just really appreciate being able to incorporate my academic interests into my internship and doing something that is helpful for the clients in the Adult Program,” Emily says. “It has been great to see the connection between my academic life and real life, and see it come into action.”

Close bonds formed
The Santa Clara University students have also developed friendships with Morgan Autism Center clients through the program.
“Working with Chris and Jonathan has been a lot of fun,” Will says. “This is usually the table I try and pick.”
Jonathan chimes in: “I’ve also enjoyed talking with him about country music. I told him I am going to try and get tickets to the next Darius Rucker concert.”
Emily shares similar sentiments about forming close bonds with clients Matty and Stu, the first of which was formed quickly and the latter gradually.
“We play Uno every day that I’m here,” she says about Matty. “He will come and hover with his Uno cards and wait for me to ask if he would like to play. It’s always kind of the highlight of my day. I love playing Uno with Matty.”
With Stu, however, the friendship formed gradually.
“I remember one time we’d gone to yoga and she let me hold her bear, and that was the big indicator that I was in with her and we were good,” Emily recalls. “Since then, I go sit with her at lunch sometimes and chat with her.”
Christina says while she hasn’t delved into deep relationships with anyone specific yet, the program has taught her lifelong lessons. She compares it to her education as a public health major with hopes to one day have a career in physical therapy.
“So I probably won’t be working with people with autism but I think it’s definitely a great experience and I’ve learned a lot from it so far in terms of just learning that every person is different and has their own individual needs,” Christina says.
She continues: “Whether that’s learning how to live with autism or learning how to live with an injury with physical therapy, I think just understanding that every individual is different and has different needs and different lifestyles and personalities is something that I will definitely take away.”
Jennifer also believes the relationships go beyond the importance of friendship.
“The more people that get to know our program and our students and clients, the better they will understand the issues surrounding those with autism,” she says. “This leads to better acceptance so our students and clients become more a part of the community and not separate.”
“Because social relationships are difficult for people with autism, it is a rare gift to have such an opportunity,” Jennifer continues, in closing. “To watch the SCU students figure out how to interact with our clients and bridge the sometimes difficult interactions is wonderful. And when both our clients and the SCU students start to figure each other out and begin to truly enjoy each other’s company, it is a marvel.”
For more information about the Arrupe Program, visit

Morgan Autism Center rooted in enrichment at Guadalupe Park

by Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist

Leslee Hamilton, executive director of Guadalupe River Park Conservancy,  is deeply rooted in the belief that connecting with nature can enrich your life — no matter who you are.

Student Peter Woch explores Guadalupe River with Morgan Autism Center employee Christina Brown on a River Explorers field trip.

Student Peter Woch explores Guadalupe
River with Morgan Autism Center employee
Christina Brown on a River Explorers field trip.

“This park is for everyone,” she emphasizes of Guadalupe River Park in San Jose. “And one of the things that I love about it is there is something for everyone, whether your thing is public art or bird watching or using the trails or gardens, or active recreation.”

The organization’s philosophy expands the definition even further: to people with different abilities.

“We launched our program for children with special needs in Fall of 2011,” Leslee says.

Special Needs Outdoor Learning Program at Guadalupe River Park Conservancy offers field trip programming designed for persons with special needs, including those with autism, Down syndrome, ADD, ADHD, deafness, blindness, and mobility impairments, according to its website.

This includes River Explorers — a hands-on, outdoor program that takes participants down into the river to experience a riparian habitat — and Flower Power — a program where special needs students can explore what the Heritage Rose Garden and Historic Orchard have to offer — both of which Morgan Autism Center students and adults have experienced.

“When Leslee told me how the staff at Guadalupe had some training for special needs students, I asked if we could be part of their program,” former Executive Director Jennifer Sullivan says. “She was very enthusiastic and encouraging of our participation.”

Students from Morgan Autism Center first visited Guadalupe in April 2011 but regular, weekly visits started in 2012.

“It has been a great partnership, giving our clients a nice opportunity to feel they are helping the community, which indeed they are,” Jennifer, who now works in the Adult Program, says.

This collaboration still continues today. Separate groups from Room 10 and the Adult Program visit Guadalupe every Friday, where they complete various tasks including picking up trash.

It is a favorite outing of many of the clients.

“While getting the benefit of exercise with a nice, long walk, and fresh air, having some time for socializing, our group also gets to work on important skills such as tool safety, and trail safety,” Flo Fuller, Morgan Autism Center Community Integration Director, says.

In fact, it is so popular that we have started rotating clients so they all get a turn.

Adult Program employee Roger De La Cruz has been part of the outings for nearly a year and a half.

“What I enjoy most about Guadalupe Park is that it enriches our clients’ lives as they help beautify the park,” he explains. “Guadalupe Park provides a safe space for our clients to build their teamwork skills.”

He is the group leader at Guadalupe and takes — along with other staff — a big group there every Friday. Boris, Molly, Drew, Chuck, John F. and Julian were just some of the many to share their enthusiasm recently about the ongoing partnership.

“What I really love the most is that there is recycling and trash to pick up and save for!” Julian says, excitedly. “I really hope I would do this some day on my own too. What I’ve learned is that I always try to do my best to keep up with the group and not to go way too far ahead.”

Many of them also enjoy what the location of Guadalupe Park offers.

“I go to Guadalupe every other Friday and I like to see the airplanes pass by on their way to the San Jose Airport: Southwest airlines and all United States airlines,” Chuck says.

Room 10 teacher Christine Cipriano said a highlight for her has been seeing relationships form and grow, noting one in particular.

“I especially love the special friendship that Jason has formed with Ranger Mike,” Christine says. “Mike still stops by to see Jason for special occasions like a lunch outing to the Elephant Bar, his birthdays and graduation even though he is now a park ranger at Alum Rock Park.”

Leslee is looking forward to furthering the relationships and partnership with Morgan Autism Center and like-minded organizations in the future, noting the ability to do so through the $6 million Rotary Children’s Playgarden — currently under construction — which will enable children with special needs to play alongside their siblings and friends. The project will be completed soon and will be maintained by Guadalupe River Park Conservancy via volunteers, in-kind donations, and fee-for-service contracts.

For more information about Guadalupe River Park Conservancy’s  special needs programs, contact or (408) 298-7657.

Ratermann employs adult clients at Morgan Autism Center

By Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist


Morgan Autism Center adult clients Brian H., John F. and Jeff J. work on assembling “T-35 Ring Tags” for Ratermann Manufacturing, Inc. They are just a few people the company pays on a regular basis for their work, since the partnership was formed in 1989 between the company and nonprofit organization.

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.”

G Ratermann

George Ratermann, president of Ratermann Manufacturing, Inc., has been employing Morgan Autism Center adult clients since 1989.

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.


Chris, a Morgan Autism Center adult client, shows off a T-35 Ring Tag he completed.

“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.

Wanda agrees.

“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.”

Board Spotlight: New series helps you get to know our Board of Directors

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.

Employee, client celebrate 20th year together at MAC

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.

Brian and Flo“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.”

Student Benji makes great strides since starting at MAC in 2008

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,519 other followers

%d bloggers like this: