*Note: This post was initially posted on the now discontinued Dallas Moms Blog on October 20, 2010.*

If you’re anything like me, your worries for your children don’t stop at today or tomorrow or even next week or month, they extend well into the future. Whether you’re raising a child with or without a disability, you’re probably actively making important plans for the future. Those of us raising children with special needs are often quite uncertain as to what the future will hold for our precious kiddos. Much of my concern about Ethan’s future (now 7-years-old) relates to how we might better help Ethan find success in higher education and later in establishing and maintaining a rewarding career. I know that many parents raising children like Ethan, with Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, share these concerns. We all see tremendous potential in our kids and simply want them to succeed and find joy in what they choose to do in life!

For that reason, I was thrilled to hear about the cutting-edge nonPareil Institute.non Pareil (nP) is taking a novel approach to working with adults on the spectrum in an on-the-job training program for technology- and gaming-related careers. The name “nonPareil” means “unparalleled.” nP is the first Institute of its kind.

Many times young adults on the spectrum have an innate knack for technology, but too often are not encouraged to build on this interest as they transition from high school into college or into the work force. nP takes this acute interest and natural skill with  computers/technology/gaming and offers a different instructional and work environment which promotes acceptance, builds self-esteem and supports dignity.

According to Gary Moore, President and co-founder of nP, since much of the neurotypical world is not extremely accepting and accommodating of adults with Autism, there is a high rate of depression and suicide. Many young adults with ASD, even though they are bright, capable and eager, are unable to score and hold down “mainstream” jobs (like filling salt and pepper shakers in restaurants).

I can see why mainstream jobs could prove challenging in at least two ways. First, some of our young adults on the spectrum are simply not equipped to handle the intricate social system of some work environments nor are the work environments accommodating of these individuals’ diverse needs. Secondly, jobs (like salt/pepper shaker filling or bagging groceries at the supermarket) are far from stimulating or rewarding to these individuals. We all desire to work in jobs that fulfill us, right? Why would we expect anything different from individuals on the spectrum? Simply put, we shouldn’t.

That is why nonPareil’s approach to “education” is so refreshing. The students, ranging in age from 18 to 50+, work together in small group sessions led by nP’s other co-founder and CEO, Dan Selec, to build fundamental technical skills and knowledge. Everyone at nP values the students’ differences and the instructors focus on building upon the each individual’s strengths and abilities – as opposed to accentuating their disabilities.

Dan dreamed up nP in 2007. He started the Institute in 2008 to expose students to different technologies and tools in order to help them find their niche. Dan shares that nP implements a “mission of love and technology” that “meets students where they are and teaches them right there.” Both Dan and Gary are parents of children diagnosed with ASD. Their love and respect for this population is palpable; what they are doing for this group of adults is noteworthy, courageous and inspiring.

Once students have a foundation of knowledge and skill, they are encouraged to work independently on projects.  Many students are currently working on designing iPhone and iPad apps and creating game maps (aka – new levels) for existing computer and video games. One nP student is close to making her first iPhone app sell…she is responsible for the entire project, including design, programming and art!

 At nP, Dan and the other instructors work to gently guide students but ultimately allow them to decide what they wish to work on. When they’re creating a product, Dan helps them see how society might view it. Ultimately though, the power is in the students’ hands as they are encouraged to “bring their vision of what they want into the world,” says Dan. This I love! When I look at our society’s major advancements from the past to the present, it is often the forward-thinkers and out-of-the-box brilliant minds who have been instrumental in designing necessary change and advancements. nP is educating, nurturing and mentoring some of society’s out-of-the-box brilliant minds, right here in the DFW area!

nP has recently been recognized as a revolutionary new model for a self-sustaining non-profit organization. The games and apps sold by nP students while attending the institute will eventually go toward sustaining the program. Students pay a monthly tuition to attend nP classes and lab time held on the SMU Plano campus. In the current location, nP has about 20 students presently enrolled, but can accommodate up to 50 students.

With a large expansion planned for 2011, nP will be able to expand beyond 50 students and will be able to offer students more daily hours on the equipment. But, in order to make that happen, more funding is simply a must. Click to read more about the expansion plans or to learn how to make a much-needed donation.              

At nP, smart students – many of them afraid of failing at yet another typical school or work setting – are allowed to succeed. More importantly, they cannot fail! It is students’ individual strengths that guide the direction of their program. When they leave nP, they will be armed with: work-force experience in a career which encourages creative self-expression; a community of co-workers with similar interests/goals; and a taste of sweet success. You have to admit – that’s powerful!

Posted by Leigh, filed under Advocacy, Asperger's Syndrome, Dallas Moms Blog, Education, Family, Uncategorized. Date: March 2, 2011, 10:59 pm | No Comments »

Ethan & Greg at Six Flags

 Ethan has been working to earn a trip to Six Flags by taking his supplements without complaint and in a timely manner. After filling up his sticker chart for doing just that 20 times we headed off to Six Flags last weekend for a day of fun and rewards.

Leigh & Ethan at Six Flags

Ethan loved getting to ride some rides for the first time and was so patient in all of the lines. He acted so big!

Ethan at Six Flags

      

Ethan at Six Flags

     

Ethan at Six Flags

    Always the train lover, we spent a lot of time on the train, getting from one side of the park to the other. Before our last train ride as we walked through the line to board the train cars, the engineer blew the whistle and rustled some insects in the bushes we were passing. Poor Ethan was not only surprised by the ear-piercing toot, but he was also stung on the ear! Poor guy. It really hurt; his ear swelled within minutes but we applied ice and a nice lady in front of us had a “Sting Relief” wipe we used. Then we went to the First Aid building where Ethan was given a topical medication which helped the pain and swelling.

Ouch–Ethan’s swollen ear

Just after that he was happy to stand in line for hours for another ride. So, while he was stung, he certainly thought the trip was worthwhile!

Ethan & Greg at Six Flags

We did have fun.

Posted by Leigh, filed under Asperger's Syndrome, Family, Uncategorized. Date: October 24, 2008, 8:48 pm | No Comments »

Clay has actually been home for awhile now, because he was doing so very well in the hospital following the surgery! When I spoke with him last, he had a respiratory infection and felt lousy from it. That didn’t stop him from going out to ride Shellie’s bike though! (When I mentioned that he *probably* shouldn’t be doing that with a numb right leg and left hand and some lingering double vision, he said something like, “well, it is just a one speed.”) He’s a little wild, but he always has been. I’m thankful that hasn’t changed but reminded him that the last thing he needs is a bike wreck.

His physical therapists will be coming to his house to work with him again after the respiratory infection clears up. Then maybe he won’t feel the need to go riding bikes without their assistance . . .

I DID get his permission to share the photos I have and he said, “I have even more.” But, let’s start with these. The first is tame–of the hospital only–and the other two are a little more difficult to view if you don’t care for incisions.

Swedish Medical Center

Again, if you don’t handle “medical” stuff very well, no need to scroll down. Otherwise, have a look; it amazes me that he has only the one incision with stitches.

Clay’s Incision

There are 2 staples on top where they removed drainage tubes a day or so after surgery. Poor Clay.What we can’t see are the 20 screws in his skull. Amazing. He is doing simply phenomenal, all things considered!

Clay’s Incision Close Up

Keep on improving Clay!

Thanks to everyone, again, for continued prayers and positive thoughts. I will be thrilled to repay the favor anytime for you or your loved ones.

Posted by Leigh, filed under Family, Uncategorized. Date: September 30, 2008, 12:22 pm | No Comments »

03  Sep
Write What?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the question, “How’s your writing going?” in the past couple of months . . . which is really a nice question. Very nice that people actually care that I LOVE to write and that–when I can–I pour my heart and soul into it.

However, with Ethan home with me 100% for the summer (i.e. no week-long camps, etc.,) I didn’t have any spare time for writing. I didn’t seek any freelance work because I knew that my schedule wouldn’t accomodate it. In fact, the only writing I managed to do was write a book about Ethan for his school’s staff, and a little writing for Ethan’s school PTA.  (I’m the publicity chairperson for the PTA this year and started working on new forms, etc., in July!)

So, while “my writing” is progressing very slow, I’m rather proud about it. I KNOW that this time is fleeting . . . sharing this past summer with Ethan was relaxing and enjoyable. Truth be known, it disappeared in a flash. He has developed a love of reading that I can honestly say developed in a very organic way, thanks to our long hours of devouring books together over the past five-and-a-half years. It won’t be long before Ethan will be asking me to enroll him in week-long summer camps; for all I know it could be next summer! Ethan is my #1 job–my #1 priority. My dedication was to him this summer.

Now that he’s in Kindergarten (full day) I’ll get to focus more on my writing. I’m even going to substitute a bit to earn some extra dough for the family and spend some quality time with the elementary set, but I am a bit sad to say goodbye to this past summer. We “accomplished” so little, but so much, in the big scheme of things. Our mother/son bond has never been so strong. His social skills have continued to develop and he is a total love bug when it comes to me. I love this kiddo more than I ever knew possible. I’m thankful.

Posted by Leigh, filed under Children's Writing, Family, Uncategorized. Date: September 3, 2008, 9:19 pm | No Comments »