Autism touches many people and families. With this comes an increasing need for awareness and understanding of practical resources and approaches for supporting situations in many contexts—schools, homes, community.
In January, Selkirk College is launching SPECTRUM: Lifespan Autism Resources & Training, an exciting, innovative online course, developed collaboratively with stakeholders from across the Columbia Basin. Almost four years in the making, it offers perspectives about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) across the lifespan, using a story-based multimedia approach and Moodle, a simple learning platform.
“There is a strong community need for basic information about autism and the impacts it has at all ages,” says Selkirk College Education Assistant & Community Support Worker (EACSW) Program instructor Jane Green. “From the teacher to the librarian, family member, psychologist and education assistant, bus driver, lifeguard, soccer coach, aunt, store clerk, many lives are touched by ASD.”
SPECTRUM will increase awareness and understanding of practical resources and approaches for support in several contexts. Five community focus group sessions were held in Castlegar, Trail, Grand Forks, Nelson and New Denver to gather information and insights on what should be taught, to what depth and in what order. Interest was significant and early on, the need for SPECTRUM was reinforced.
“It’s time. Autism doesn’t have to be scary,” says Green. “Neurodivergent thinking just needs to be understood. Information creates insight, acceptance and inclusion.”
SPECTRUM includes a series of 12 modules covering the landscape of ASD. Lessons are presented through shared interviews and real-life case example stories that elaborate on the content while bringing information and insights into context. The stories are local and the resources provided are regional in focus.
Design and development of this online offering were important. Course content is bright and engaging on screen using light board technology, strong graphic elements and video content. Accessibility for different learning styles was a priority. Selkirk College Digital Arts & New Media instructor Amy Bohigian has offered guidance, design and filming support and is enthused about the project. “I am excited that this course captures the voices of families, professionals and individuals who are speaking directly to their everyday experiences,” says Bohigian, also a documentary filmmaker.
Lisa Thiessen, EACSW alumna, experienced community support worker and respite provider, took on this development with fervour. Thiessen’s skills with graphics and technology have been huge assets in the project moving forward.
“We’re excited to present the course content in a wide variety of ways within the online format,” says Thiessen. “Our goal is that the course be as accessible as we can make it—to push the limits of what can be done in the Moodle platform. We have thought about and tried to incorporate the principles of Universal Design for Learning every step of the way.”
Students can learn at their own pace from home with Instructor Michelle Pozin leading the class. Pozin has worked supporting school-based teams, community support workers’ families and individuals with ASD for more than 20 years, both as a teacher in the schools, a community educator and a behaviour consultant. Currently, she is a special education teacher in School District 8 and looks forward to offering this invaluable information to the community.
“We are so excited to be finally launching this much needed, locally developed course, to provide increased awareness, support, understanding and demystification of autism,” she says.
SPECTRUM will appeal to education assistants, teachers, early childhood educators and community support workers who want to increase their qualifications and broaden their resume. The training and resources are also valuable for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, caregivers, coaches, store clerks, bus drivers, individuals with ASD and anyone living in the community. This course development was supported by many regional community partners and generously funded by Columbia Basin Trust.
SPECTRUM starts Jan. 8, 2018. Register at selkirk.ca/SPECTRUM. The cost is $250 per person.