GCC Workshop Focuses on Children with Autism

MICHAEL KONIGSBERG
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Glendale College’s Child Development Center’s hosted teachers from the community May 5 at the Children with Special Needs Consortium.

Inconspicuously poised atop “Cardiac Hill,” the center is a laboratory school that trains GCC students in early education and other special needs childcare. The center teaches social and speech skills through play and formal therapy to children 2 to 4 years of age.

Consortium speakers gave three respective workshops, each focusing on one element of autism in early childhood, all focusing on the importance of both education and therapy to treat the disorder.

In her workshop on autistic children in their environments, Lisa Brauer, MFCC and child development specialist, emphasized that, “the process of receiving information about the child is as important as the [information itself].” She explained that to help an autistic child acting out or withdrawing, one must first observe the conditions of his environment.

Kathy Holomon, an education consultant with Education Spectrum, reiterated this. For example, the child may need to hear clearer, more encouraging messages in the classroom. Sometimes the classroom must be made over as a calm area with no distractions. Before any therapy is necessary, however, Holomon spends time with him to gauge the kind of trouble he is having; autism is a wide spectrum of needs.

There is a commonality, however.

Speech pathologists Alicia McManaman and Sarah Boulton of Briggs and Associates said that autistic infants lack subtle, complex, and basic abilities – reacting to show interest in environmental stimuli, and then sharing sustained interest with an adult – which, in playtime, are the foundation for all other learning in later childhood.

Playing is the essential method of therapy for autism, McManaman and Boulton said in their language development workshop. This is the most natural way for a child to receive new information about the environment, and then, dealing with the information, practice social skills and expressive language, areas where autistic children need the most help.

Children with special needs require a special support system, and they get it from the teachers and therapists trained by workshops like the Consortium. Yet, the Consortium could not have happened without a Child Development Training Consortium Grant.

Melita Baumann, the Child Development department chair, manages the $20,000 to $25,000 state grant.

All continuing students must be professionals in school-age childcare, or GCC undergraduates studying to join that field. As soon as a student shows the state certification from the Consortium, he receives a check for the full cost of tuition for the last semester.

This semester, an anticipated turnout of 70 filled the Child Development Center in response to fliers to community childcare centers.

When asked about the success of the Child Development Center, Baumann said, “Parents want to have their children here, because they realize that a teacher training environment is desirable. They won’t find any dishonorable practices, the children’s needs will be met, and they’ll have intelligent observation. That is the strength of a lab school.”

Baumann sees that strength continuing outside the Center. “Anytime I go into a preschool, I see my students [thriving as teachers]. And they’re taking more classes [here] to get better at what they do.”