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Old November 21st, 2017, 11:22 AM   #611
Visionary7903 Male
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Default 'Agricultural specialisterne': rural employment revolution for those with Autism

The subject of recent posts has mainly been on Autism-related events and organisations in the state of Ohio.

The PLAY Project is an early intervention program offered through the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities, based in Eaton, Ohio. PLAY stands for Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters...
Ethan Schulte was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 2 years old.

Within a week, Ethan and his family were enrolled in the PLAY Project...

...Preble County began using the PLAY Project for children age 3 and younger in 2010.

"It was an area of need for us," said Diane Knupp, superintendent of the county board of DD.

Mercer County, Ohio, was showing wonderful results from the program. Preble County was able to share staff with Mercer, since it did not have enough kids to warrant a full time PLAY Project consultant.

"It was amazing, the growth in the kids," Knupp said.

Ethan's mother, Courtney Schulte, saw that growth for herself. "It brings you a lot closer (to your child)," she said.

The basic technique of the PLAY Project is to meet autistic children on their own ground.

Kids with [Autism Spectrum Disorders] tend to fixate on an object, Knupp said. Instead of taking the object away, the parent (or other adult) focuses on it with the child as a way to establish contact. As the two play with and talk about the object together, a relationship is established that helps the child learn to interact with others.

"It's drawing them out of their world into our world," said Knupp.

PLAY Project consultant Diana Holderman described the process as "enticing" children into a relationship. "They start feeling safe. If that kid knows an adult 'gets' them, ... that makes the adult safe," she said.

And -- as the name implies -- it's fun.

"It should look fun," Holderman said. "What people should see is joy. What they should hear is laughter."

By 2013, Knupp's agency started introducing the PLAY project to preschool teachers with great success. But the oldest child in the program was struggling with kindergarten.

Knupp began to explore the possibility of taking PLAY into the county schools.

Teaching PLAY

Project developer Solomon said that's not unusual. Every day, he hears concerns from parents of children with [Autism Spectrum Disorders] about the difficulties their kids are facing in school.

His response is an extension of the PLAY Project called Teaching PLAY.

"What Teaching PLAY does ... is help teachers and school staff engage students in a way that encourages attention, engagement, interaction and involvement," said Solomon. "That leads to learning."

Solomon's organization did a pilot study last year throughout the state of Ohio, but Preble County is the first site in the nation to adopt Teaching PLAY into its schools, he said.

Kindergarten classrooms in Eaton Community Schools and National Trail Local School District in New Paris, as well as the preschool at Preble Shawnee Local School District in Camden, are participating.

...Courtney Schulte is excited that her son is continuing with PLAY at kindergarten. "I think it will make a huge difference," she said.

Ethan's teacher and aide at National Trail Elementary School, Cindy Herrmann and Tammy Kimball, received PLAY training in August.

"It's mainly doing what the child loves," Herrmann said. Ethan loves cars and trucks, so she and Kimball use them to help him practice counting, number recognition and other skills.

"Once you've got their attention and see what they're comfortable with ... then you can approach them academically," said Herrmann.

Once a month, a PLAY consultant visits Ethan's classroom to observe and videotape him in action. Teacher, aide and consultant watch the video together and talk about strategies and opportunities for the next month.

"It's not hard to do," Herrmann said. "It almost seems like second nature."

To be successful, it does require time and attention. The rewards, however, are great.

"It kind of brings the kids out of their shells," said Kimball.

Finding funds

Courtney Schulte was surprised to learn that Ethan's teachers would need PLAY training before he entered kindergarten.

"I thought this was in all the schools," she said.

Krupp said she had a good response from all county school districts when she first fielded the idea of introducing PLAY to the classroom. Twin Valley South in West Alexandria and Tri-County North in Lewisburg both expressed interest but don't have any former PLAY Project kids enrolled right now.

The trouble was funding.

With only 11 children total involved in PLAY for Preble County, Krupp's agency didn't need a lot of money, but it did need some.

Krupp saw a draft state budget that included $500,000 to introduce Teaching PLAY to Franklin County, Ohio, preschools. In April, she wrote to Ohio State Sen. Bill Beagle of Tipp City for help. Beagle, State Rep. Jeff Rezabek and Stephanie Garrett of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, visited Preble County in June to meet with Knupp and Holderman.

The visitors were shown videos documenting PLAY students -- including Ethan in his preschool classroom -- and their progress.

On June 30, the Ohio budget signed by Gov. John Kasich included $8,500 for the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities to take Teaching PLAY into the schools.

The amount -- which is to be spread over two years -- is modest, but so are Knupp's plans. Preble County will continue to share one PLAY consultant position with Mercer County and another with Greene County. Training and the monthly consultant visits are the only significant costs associated with Teaching PLAY. Consultant visits will continue to be an essential part of PLAY, Knupp expects the training costs to go down as the program continues.

"I hope we're going to build internal capacity," she said. "We'll give (staff) the tools and techniques, then they won't need us anymore."

Knupp hopes to use some of the funds to follow this year's kindergartners into first grade. She is excited about the possible long-term effects of building the capacity of [Autism Spectrum Disorder] kids for school success.

"We won't know for years, but I believe if you invest in early intervention, ... you'll save taxpayer dollars in the long run," she said. Not only might students require less support in higher grades, they could be more likely to be independent, productive adults.

"I've been in the field almost 40 years, and (PLAY) is one of the most profound intervention techniques I've ever seen," said Knupp. "I really feel that we're changing children's lives. And we're changing families' lives."

Ethan's mom agrees.

"It's going to help so many kids," Courtney Schulte said.
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