Tag Archive | "autism"

Surfing for Autism in Montauk

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By Tessa Raebeck

With the goal of helping to foster an understanding and acceptance of autism, Surfers Healing uses the “transformative experience of surfing” to both support kids and families living with autism and show others just how much kids with autism are capable of accomplishing.5

A fundraiser for Surfers Healing will be held at Solé East Resort in Montauk on Thursday, September 11, at 6 p.m. A barbecue and live music by the Dan Bailey Tribe will be followed by the screening of “Expencive Porno Movie,” “a delightfully retro 45 minutes of experimental surf film shot entirely on Super 16mm,” according to a press release, and more music from Winston Irie and the Selective Security Band.

There will be a raffle of new gear from Montauk’s homegrown clothing company, Whalebone Creative, with proceeds going to Surfers Healing. Ales from Montauk Brewing Company will supplement the all-you-can-eat barbecue.

Over the last 15 years, Surfers Healing has made a difference in the lives of families and kids living with autism. The organization took 4,500 kids surfing last year and plans to continue growing. The camps are free and Surfers Healing hopes to add sponsorships for families who are unable to afford to travel to camp.

The Backyard at Solé East is located at 90 Second House Road in Montauk. Tickets are $25 per person for the BBQ, but entrance to the event is free. For more information, call Solé East at (631) 668-2105.

Flying Point Foundation Adopts New Technology

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By Claire Walla

Since it’s inception in 2010, The Flying Point Foundation has made a concerted effort to cater to children with autism on the East End. The group has given them access to traditional summer camp experiences — like surfing, swimming, yoga and other non-competitive sports — that are sometimes difficult for high-needs kids to participate in.

But this year, Flying Point will up the ante. Thanks to an anonymous donation from a local charity organization, Flying Point will introduce new technology to its summer repertoire: the iPad.

“I was contacted by someone from this local foundation who happened to see a segment on ‘60 Minutes’ on iPads and autism,” said Kim Covell, the founding director of The Flying Point Foundation.

The program, which aired in October of 2011, emphasized the communication needs of those with autism, many of whom have trouble expressing their feelings, even in very simple ways. While there are currently devices that address this issue — allowing people to press “yes” or “no” buttons to answer questions instead of verbalizing responses — Covell said she praises the iPad for its versatility.

In addition to a communication-enhancing app called “Proloquo2Go,” which runs around $200, the device is designed to be user-friendly.

“I’m not an expert,” Covell implored, “but from my personal perspective it’s a really important piece of technology for providing easy access to information.”

Covell said that her son, who has autism, recently acquired an iPad and she’s been able to witness how effective it’s been for him.

“The touch screen is huge,” she said in terms of its importance. “When you look at the apps, it’s very clearly delineated what you have to choose.”

She said the simplicity of touching images to open programs actually streamlines the whole process, while the desktop computer interface requires users to click on series of folders and files to find programs and documents.

“Some children with autism tend to be disorganized, and some have terrible handwriting” Covell continued. The iPad mitigates all that. “Everything’s all in one spot.”

This is particularly helpful in a school environment, where organizational skills are necessary.

But in the context of summer camp, Covell said another benefit is that all kids can use the device, whether it’s for autism-specific purposes or not. This is particularly important for an organization like The Flying Point Foundation, which provides a summer camp model based on the idea of inclusion; in other words, both children with and without autism are invited to participate in its summer programs.

“Kids with autism have particular challenges, so it’s sometimes hard to find things [for them to do] that are on the same social level as their peers,” Covell continued.

But an iPad — which can hold a variety of tools, from apps that enhance communication to entertaining videos that can be seen on YouTube — almost bridges that divide.

“It almost evens the playing field a little bit,” she said.

The only downside at this point, Covell said, is the cost. A basic iPad runs about $500, but some apps (like Proloquo2Go) run $200. In total, Covell said Flying Point has been granted 15 iPads, and some extra funds to purchase relevant apps.

While there most likely won’t be enough devices for each camper to have exclusive access to his or her own, the devices can be used in a shared environment. And, for communication purposes, she added that the lead counselor will have his or her own device which a child will be able to use at times when thoughts are difficult to translate into speech. The camp is able to cater to the needs of children with autism in large part by providing a staff of special education teachers. And because some children require one-on-one care, she said the counselor-to-camper ratio is very low.

While Covell said she is not exactly sure how her foundation will factor the iPads into its tight schedule of rotating day-to-day activities, she imagines the gadgets will largely be used recreationally.

For example, one useful tactic for communicating with children with autism is implementing a “reward” system as an incentive for paying attention and following instructions, Covell said.

“It can be reinforcing,” she explained. “A behavioral program depends a lot on the child getting a reward at the end [of an activity].”

Covell also recently spoke with a special education expert in Southampton who gave some suggestions on how best to implement iPads into the camp’s daily activities.

“We’re probably going to add an iPad section to our daily rotation of activities,” she said. “This will be a great way for the typical kids to work together with the kids that need support, so that they can both learn about this technology and have fun doing it.”

At the end of the summer program, Covell added that Flying Point will donate two iPads to two children who attend the summer program. The donation will be made in conjunction with the child’s school program to ensure that the iPad is both as helpful as possible for the child, but also not a distraction for that child’s teacher.

In fact, Covell said, “If a family acquired an iPad, they would have to sign an agreement that they would be able to use the technology in school.”

“It’s amazing to me, to be able to say that this one device can be used therapeutically, recreationally, educationally, socially and for communication,” Covell said.

Two Events Celebrate Autism’s Spectrum

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By Marissa Maier

In the last few years, Kim Covell, founder of the Flying Point Foundation of Autism, has noticed an uptick in the number of local organizations focused on aiding children with autism and other special needs. From the Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End (CTREE) at the Wölffer Estate Stables to a swim program operated by Meg Preiss at the East Hampton YMCA, a variety of programs are cropping up on the South Fork in an effort to enrich the lives of autistic children.

Three years ago, Covell started a Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) for Southampton families, hoping to help the parents of autistic and special needs children navigate the local education system (that group recently joined forces with a similar Sag Harbor-based organization to form the East End SEPTA). These offerings perhaps hint at a larger shift in the way autism is viewed locally and nationally.

“I think people in the typical community are starting to understand these people are part of our world,” remarked Covell, the mother of a son with autism.

According to the Autism Society of America, 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder and these types of disorders are the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the country with 10 to 17 percent annual growth. Considering these statistics, individuals with autism make up a large segment of the population that cannot be ignored. Author Rupert Isaacson, who is best known for “The Horse Boy,” a book depicting his journey with his autistic son, Rowan, through Mongolia, agrees with this point.

“We as a society are going to make some huge changes. These people are going to be in the workforce. Our society and workplace may look quite different,” noted Isaacson. “I meet more and more young adult autistics who are functioning quite well.”

On Wednesday, April 7, Rupert Isaacson will host a screening of the documentary film based on his book. The event will benefit CTREE and coincides with the National Autism Month of April. In commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, Covell organized a special performance by Brittany Maier, a 20-year-old musical savant who is blind, autistic and mentally disabled, but has the ability to compose music and play thousands of pieces from memory; but the performance has since been postponed. Both events will take place at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. The theatre added that the Maier performance will most likely be rescheduled for a date in the near future.

Isaacson said that though his son benefited from his interest in horseback riding, he is careful to note that finding a “cure” for autism is perhaps an illusory concept.

“It is a bit like me saying ‘Stop being American.’ We can transplant you to China and you would end up learning the language but you would always remain American. People who are autistic are who they are … and autistics offer a valuable world view,” said Isaacson. “We want to change certain behaviors but we don’t want to change who this person is. The question isn’t, ‘Is autism a problem to be fixed?’ It is a series of gifts and skills to be maximized.”

This summer, the Flying Point Foundation hopes to establish a week-long summer camp for children with a spectrum of autistic disorders. Covell plans to expand the program to include camp sessions that correspond with school vacations. In the meantime, Covell and a friend have been working on a website celebrating artistic expressions of the autistic experience through various medium, from paintings to poetry. The website, www.aweinautism.org, is scheduled to launch this Friday.

“The Horse Boy”

CTREE, the Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End, and author/producer Rupert Isaacson will host a screening of the documentary “The Horse Boy,” based on Isaacson’s book of the same title, on Wednesday, April 7, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Bay Street Theatre on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Isaacson will attend the event.

Directed by Michel Orion Scott, “The Horse Boy” follows Isaacson and his family as they trek on horseback through outer Mongolia in an attempt to find healing for his son.

Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and speak with Isaacson, author of the New York Times bestseller. CTREE’s Program Director, Karen Bocksel, along with board members and staff will also be available to address any questions and discuss the therapeutic riding program. 

Tickets cost $25 per person for the screening and $30 for dessert and a meeting with Isaacson ($50 for both venues). To purchase tickets, call CTREE at (631) 779-2835 or e-mail Karen@ctreeny.org.


“The Awe in Autism”

The Flying Point Foundation for Autism-sponsored performance by musical savant Brittany Maier has been postponed for a date “in the near future,” says Bay Street Theatre, where it will be held. The evening included the debut of a song especially written for the Foundation, which will be sung by “American Idol” season nine audition finalist Leah Laurenti of Medford.