Monday, April 11, 2016

Autistic Reality’s Trip to the Rebecca School in New York City, By Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

In this blog entry, I shall chronicle my trip to the Rebecca School for developmentally disabled children in New York City. It was incredibly fun, and a wonderful learning experience for all of us!
I was in Rochester, New York in the fall of last year when I received an email from a gentleman named Zachary Freeman. Mr. Freeman said he represented the comic book club at the Rebecca School, a school for the developmentally disabled youth. I quickly did a Google search, and after looking at their information and some other search results, I decided that the school was a reputable business. I agreed to do business with Mr. Freeman. He asked what kinds of business I could do. I mentioned that I had a talk on my book, and that is comic book club might be interested in my talk. Over the next several months, he and I corresponded many times via email. The school agreed to pay my transportation by train, as well as my meals. I would be staying with a friend. The school also agreed to pay a $200 honorarium.
I got to the Rebecca School, and Mr. Freeman was summoned. He took me to the art classroom, where I set up my presentation. After about 20 minutes or half an hour, the students started to arrive. All in all, there were at least a dozen of them. A few of them had swim practice in a little while, so I talked with all of them first. Mr. Freeman introduced me, and then I reviewed more about what I do. I asked them about themselves, and tried to get to know them. The majority of the students I met were autistic, and all of them had developmental disabilities. All of them were verbal. Most of them belonged to the comic book club at the school, although a few other interested kids showed up. Their age ranges were mostly middle school and high school. They were very curious about me, and I shared information about myself freely.
I shared my presentation on the storyline in the Daredevil comics involving the first successfully rendered autistic superhero. The kids were very bright, and super excited to hear my presentation. Then I talked with them some more. After that, I shared my It Gets Better video with them. For those of you who do not know, my It Gets Better video is all about encouraging socially awkward people and autistic youths that life will be really wonderful later on. It also gives some key strategies on making friends, as well as talking about support from loved ones. A couple of the kids said that the video moved them to tears.
In addition to comic book related matters, we discussed many other wonderful things. I encouraged them to be active in making decisions about their curricula. Afterwards, Mr. Freeman confirmed with me that the older children are allowed into the decision-making process. I also asked the kids whether or not they use public transportation, and gave them tips on that matter, such as planning logistics. I started talking about medication at one point, and one of the kids nervously mentioned his medication. I told him he had nothing to be ashamed of, and showed them all my medicine box. I also gave them tips on traveling by airline, and adjusting to situations which are tough on sensory disabilities. At some points during my presentation on my book, I used the book as a teaching point. One thing to note is that I never talked at or to the kids. I talked with the kids, including them equally in the conversation. At the end of my talk with the kids, I gave them each a copy of my card, and told every one of them that I am extremely proud of them.
Afterwards, Mr. Freeman and another staffer from the school gave me a complete tour of their facilities. The Rebecca School uses something called the Developmental Individual Difference Relationship-based or DIR model, which was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. The DIR model relies heavily on building relationships, life skills development, and positive reinforcement. There is no punishment at the Rebecca School. Instead, good behavior is rewarded. The school is also dead set against behavioral modification, and instead works by finding the students strong points. The ages of students vary from four years old to twenty-one years old, although they are considering raising the maximum age. There are social workers to help get the kids and their families oriented in life. They have a number of counselors who do one-on-one, couples, and family counseling. Although the school focuses on academics like any other, a special focus is given to teaching life skills. The school day lasts from 9 AM until 3 PM, except on Fridays, when the students leave at noon. The school is very centrally located, within walking distance of the Empire State Building, Madison Square Park, Grand Central Terminal, as well as Fifth Avenue.
The Rebecca school is an extremely sensory friendly facility, which makes sense given that many autistic and otherwise developmentally disabled people have sensory issues. They have a gymnasium which doubles as a venue for a number of conferences and other events they hold. Each month, a particular family presents on their child’s development. The child will often be part of that presentation. In addition to the regular gymnasium, they have to sensory friendly gymnasiums, with swings, mats, giant beanbags, and more. These rooms have low lighting as well. They have a food lab where students learn how to cook and prepare meals. Their youngest student chef is four years old, and their oldest is an alumnus. They also have a facility called the Rebecca Café, which is their store for dietary friendly foods made by the students. There are a few quiet rooms throughout the facility. Kids are not sent here for punishment, but rather by mutual agreement that they need some downtime. The quiet rooms are filled with comfortable materials, and people are permitted to sleep there. The art room where I spoke has a number of murals drawn by the students, including a special one involving a number of superheroes. Mr. Freeman is the art teacher in addition to being the moderator of the comic book club. All of the classrooms are small, and definitely not overcrowded. These classrooms have equipment for doing lab activities, as well as for stimulation, such as hooks for swings. On the roof of the building, there are two outdoor playgrounds. The one in the front is rumored to have the best unimpeded view of the Empire State Building in Manhattan.
Last but not least, our tour stopped at the computer lab. When I was shown the computer lab, the staff worried that I would disagree with their philosophy. Their philosophy is that students should spend as little time as possible on the computer at school. While I admit that University is quite different, students under eighteen should definitely spend far less time on the computer. In particular, the school’s policy says that the time students spend on recreation on the computer is currently a bit too high. I agree with them completely. Except for the days when I am out of the house, I always turn my computer off at 4:00 PM. The rest of the day is spent reading and doing chores. I told Mr. Freeman and my tour guide about this. I told them that I completely agree with their stance on the overreliance of today’s young students on computers.
I was given my check for my honorarium and my meal expenses, and I signed a copy of my book for display at the school, as well as giving them one for circulation. I will also be sending them an electronic copy for the visually impaired or other people who have difficulty reading. In addition, I signed a print for them of the illustration from the back cover, made by the illustrator himself, Jeff Perdziak. It was a wonderful day! Although I really wish that I had access to the many wonderful things in this school when I was growing up, I am nonetheless glad that I grew up the way I did and that I am who I am today.
This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

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