Friday, December 30, 2011

The Virtue of Life-long Learning

As we close out 2011, it's important to circle back and recall the valuable lessons of the year so we take them with us into 2012 and apply them effectively. When I participate in conferences and other continuing education opportunities, I return with volumes of new material to consider. I have to revisit those folders to reclaim their treasures! And that's one of the blessings of studying autism: There's always new research (some promising, some lacking credibility) and theories. And as the years go on, sometimes those of us who care for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have to up-end completely our approach to certain aspects of interacting with these often misunderstood individuals.

Think about it -- Thirty years ago, "refrigerator mothers" caused their children's autism, then believed to be a psychological manifestation of a failed mother-child bond. Twenty years ago, a British researcher translated the writings of Hans Asperger and coined the diagnosis Asperger's Syndrome. Ten years ago, occupational therapists starting exploring the sensory integration aspects of treating ASD. And now, we realize that lacking the ability to talk doesn't mean a person has nothing to say.

So when earlier this year I had an administrator tell me that the school staff had been "in-serviced to death" on the topic of autism, I wondered aloud what their last training was. I learned one hour five years ago was the exposure. I recognize that autism accounts statistically for 1% of a school's population, but the good news is that best practices in teaching a child with autism often apply typical students as well! Establishing expectations, maintaining a visual schedule, and employing regular movement breaks are examples of these.

So next time you think your school couldn't use another hour of training (for staff and/or students), consider the virtue of life-long learning and give us a call.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Gift of Friendship

I had the kind of conversation last week with a mom that throws me into fits of hate and hope. She told me a sad but familiar story of a misunderstood boy who spends his recess pacing the playground perimeter because he and his peers just haven't figured out how to have successful social interactions. And without intervention, they won't.

No one "just knows" how to interact appropriately with someone with autism. Certainly, there are those with a sensitivity and compassion that encourage them to continue trying in spite of pratfalls, but unless you have an understanding of that differently-wired brain and how it impacts the way that person experiences the world around them, you will struggle.

And children with autism can't be expected to be socially graceful.  A hallmark of their disability is lack of social understanding, so how can we as parents and teachers expect them to generalize to the playground skills taught in a speech therapist's office without coaching?

And this mom told me about how this boy was trying to initiate social interaction by hugging, which he was told specifically was unacceptable.  The poor child.  So while I hate that this downtrodden boy is despairing of his young life because he can't find a way to fit in, I have hope.  My hope springs from the results we've seen from our staff and student services.  I know that we can go into that school and work with its community to create a culture of acceptance, where glimmers of understanding and empathy shine more brightly than the darkness of despair.

But we can't do that without your help.  Please consider giving a year-end gift to Good Friend, Inc.  Your donation of $10 pays for us to send a Presentation Kit loaded with helpful resources for educators and families to the school that invites us.  A $25 donation pays for gel bracelets and personalized certificates for a classroom of students who learn to be good friends.  Only $50 covers the expenses associated with a guest lecture, where upwards of 100 college students at a time learn about best practices associated with interacting with people with autism.  And a $100 donation allows us to go to a school and provide an hour-long staff in-service. 

You can donate online through our website (right-click on the Donate button to open a new PayPal checkout window) or Cause.  Checks can be made payable to Good Friend, Inc. and mailed to 808 Cavalier Dr., Waukesha WI 53186.  Donations are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law, and should be postmarked by December 31st for this year's application.

Thank you for your generous support of our mission!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hosting Autism for the Holidays?

While I am sure most people with neuro-typical development ("NTs", as they're sometimes referred to in autism circles) look forward to the holiday season, it is not always so readily welcomed by those experiencing the world with autism.  And if you're the host/-ess of this year's festivities and you have a family member with autism who's attending, please keep this seasonal AUTISM acronym in mind ...

A is for anxiety. Anxiety is a real factor in determining behavior for a person with autism. Not knowing where one is going, whether or not and when there will be gifts, and if there will be a place where one can compose one's self with dignity are all fears that may block joy.
U is for uncomfortable. Scratchy formal attire, while handsome for photo opportunities, does not a happy person with tactile-defensiveness make.  Caregivers: lose the shirt, tie, and/or wool sweater and give yourself permission to bring your loved one in his/her comfiest clothing.
T is for tips & tricks.  What's your family member with autism's special interest?  Maybe you could ask his/her caregiver what you could have on-hand in case of "emergency".  Grab some fidget toys from the dollar store (but watch out for the ones that have gel or liquid inside - that can get messy!).  Some people with autism like light-up and/or music-making baubles and others don't.
I is for information.  One of the greatest gifts you can give to the family bringing the person with autism is a good idea of what's going to happen.  What are we eating and when?  Will we open gifts before or after the meal?  Do you have a TV where we can pop a movie in as a distraction in case we're waiting?
S is for sensory overload.  I have always liked the song "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas", but I'm starting to think it's just a terrible reminder of the metallic bells, bright lights, and scented candles that come with the season.  Too much input for the senses will diminish the coping ability for your loved one with autism.
M is for meltdown.  And if that loved one runs out of ways to cope, he or she will indeed have a meltdown.  It's not a tantrum.  Don't punish it.  Understand that it's meant for your understanding of the state he or she is in.  Respect his or her limitations.
What are some ways you've adapted your holiday celebration to be respectful of your family member with autism?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From anecdotal to research-based

Last week's blog posting was more timely than I even thought.  The next day, an article about the benefits of peer education regarding autism was published in Disability Scoop, an online news service.  The piece was written regarding a study as published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.  I remember reading about this study in The Orange County Register nearly three years ago.  I contact Connie Kasari at UCLA, ecstatic about the findings.  I knew so little about how long it takes for such work to be published!

But here it is.  Proof of the effectiveness of preparing peers in an inclusive or mainstreamed classroom to receive their classmate with autism.  While it wasn't Good Friend's specific interventions that were studied, one does not have to take much of a leap to generalize the data to our Peer Sensitivity Workshops (PSWs) for elementary school students.  And soon enough, that leap won't be necessary.

Good Friend is thrilled to be working with UW-Whitewater on a study of our staff in-services and our 3rd through 5th grade PSWs.  We're in the process of identifying the pilot school, and the intervention and control groups for the study.  If you are an administrator in a public elementary school between Waukesha, Wis., and Whitewater, Wis., and wish to participate, please email

While I will never tire of the "proof" of the effectiveness of our services we currently receive, such as spontaneous hugs from 2nd grade students and affirmations from pleased parents, I will be glad to share the peer-reviewed evidence basis for teaching autism awareness, acceptance, and empathy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

To tell or not to tell ...

(adapted from our Feb. 2010 newsletter)
As we talk with parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their teachers, we are often asked a form of the following question: “Is it a good idea to share the student’s disability with his/ her classmates?” Teachers cannot share that information by law, as it violates the student’s privacy. Parents are often concerned the disclosure of the label will lead to bullying or teasing. And if a student is doing “fine”, why rock the boat, right?

As mothers of students with special needs ourselves, we consider our children’s developmental stage and self-awareness before deciding what information will be shared with whom and in what format. We encourage teams supporting students with autism to do the same.

Socially, we have found that children tease what they don’t understand. By taking the mystery out of the differences, we can begin to teach acceptance. Once we accept that the student’s limitations are not as a result of willful disobedience or failure to perform, we can start to foster empathy.

We have gone to schools before where there are a number of students in the same grade level with ASD. Some parents were willing to consent to disclose their child’s ASD, whereas others were not. In
those instances, when we come in to do a Peer Sensitivity Workshop (PSW), a couple of things happen: 
  1. We are able to identify within minutes through observation who the other children on the spectrum are. 
  2. As we interact with the typically-developing peers about autism, they ask about or comment on this classmate we suspect has ASD. Because we do not have parental consent, we will not discuss that child to maintain his or her privacy. However, it is important to note that many, if not all, of the children participating in the PSW have identified differences long before we came to teach them how to be good friends. And now instead of having their questions answered in a positive, caring atmosphere, they may be left wondering.

While we are not suggesting it is appropriate universally to divulge a child’s diagnosis, it is worthwhile for caregivers to do an honest cost-benefit analysis. In our opinion, it is better to start the discussion early so everyone is better equipped to be supportive.

If you want help establishing a common language and a culture of acceptance for your student with ASD, contact us (Chelsea 414-510-0385, Denise 262-391-1369).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

First, a warm welcome to our new friends we met at the OCALI Conference and Exposition in Columbus, Ohio, last week!  Whether you came by our booth, attended our breakout, and/or purchased one or both of our DVDs, we appreciate your interest in creating a culture of acceptance at your school.

This is a great time for expressing gratitude in general.  As an organization, Good Friend appreciates each of its members and supporters who give of their time, talent, and monetary resources to keep the autism Awareness-Acceptance-Empathy message moving forward.  Nonprofit organizations rely on the generosity of others to sustain their missions, and Good Friend is no exception!  We are glad you understand that the work we do in building strong social foundations today becomes the base for our community's pillars -- employment opportunities, accessible recreation, and universally designed facilities where everyone's abilities are valued.

We also appreciate the schools that are taking time out of their day to equip their staff and students to recognize disability harassment, respond appropriately, and think proactively.  These schools that choose to engage Good Friend are aware that all students learn better when they feel safe and respected.

It's never too late to take steps toward creating a safe social climate at your school.  And if you're enjoying such a campus, we know you are thankful for it.  If not, get in touch with us and let's find a way to add that kind of climate to your list of things for which you're grateful.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Holiday Drop'n Shop; Sunday, Nov. 20!

We hope you'll drop in at Steinhafels (Waukesha, I-94 and Cty. Rd. F) on Sunday, Nov. 20th, from 2:30 - 5 p.m., for an afternoon of shopping and socializing -- all for a good cause!  Your favorite home-based vendors including Lia Sophia, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, PartyLite, Pepper it Up, Tastefully Simple, Tupperware, and Uppercase Living will be set up in the Community Room (first floor) for your convenience.  And 25% of every sale will go toward Good Friend's Awareness-Acceptance-Empathy mission!

You bring your holiday shopping list. We'll bring the Girls-Day-Out atmosphere, which will include door prizes and grown-up refreshments.

No admission fee, no purchase, and no registration necessary.  Questions?  Call Denise at 262-391-1369.  And check back at for updates as the event draws nearer!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

SAVE THE DATE: Sunday, April 22, 2012

Coconuts and pineapple are probably not as appealing right now as pumpkins and cranberries, but think February, when team registration will begin for our 4th annual Hoa Aloha Autism Awareness Bowling Event. I don't know about you, but I'll be ready for a taste of the tropics during that home stretch of winter. And Good Friend will bring it to New Berlin Bowl (16000 W. Cleveland Ave.) during our two sessions, one at 10:30 a.m. and the other beginning at 1:00 p.m., on Sunday, April 22, 2012.

So start thinking about your team name (the ones with a Hawaiian flavor are always the best!) and participants (up to 6, with at least one adult age 21 or older).  And watch for details after the first of the year.  If you have any connections to bowling leagues or area lanes in southeast Wisconsin, please let Chelsea know, 414-510-0385, so we can get materials to them. We're looking forward to making this our biggest and best event ever!

And those diamond drop earrings? They'll be raffled off at New Berlin Bowl at 3:30. Raffle tickets for those are available, $5 for 1 and $20 for 5. Winner does not need to be present at the drawing, but will have to present the winning ticket to claim the earrings.

Sponsorship opportunities will be available as of November 1. Contact Chelsea for details.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Middle School Film Wins First Award

When Chelsea received the call in June that she and Denise had won the Autism Society Media Excellence in Video, Print or News Award for Choosing To Be a GFF, she ran around breathless.  Especially considering the other huge contributions to the field this past year, namely HBO's original movie Temple Grandin and Academy Award-winning director Gerardine Wurzburg's Wretches & Jabberers, this national honor is received with equal parts of ecstasy and humility.

The 42nd Annual Autism Society Conference and Exposition held at the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Convention Center near Orlando was much the same experience. From dining next to W&J stars Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette to chatting with educators from as far away as Alaska, Good Friend's group of gals returned to Milwaukee both exhilarated and exhausted.  Chelsea and Denise presented "From Process to Product: Creating a Culture of Acceptance in Middle School" with Learning Specialist Ann Akre on Thursday, delivered their acceptance speeches on Friday before a packed ballroom, and rounded out the expo on Saturday with help from volunteers Denise Budde and Dani Rossa.

Summer is half over already.  Time to start planning for staff in-service and student character development opportunities.  Remember that Chelsea and Denise will deliver Good Friend's autism awareness-acceptance-empathy® services (staff in-services, Peer Sensitivity Workshops for grades K-5, Individual Classroom Presentations for grades 6-8, and assemblies differentiated for grade levels between 2 and 8) within a 75-mile radius of Waukesha, Wis., without travel expenses.  Mileage allowance applies beyond that service area.

If you think Good Friend's autism awareness / peer sensitivity DVDs will fit into an existing program at your school, you may purchase them online through our website ($52 each; volume discounts available - call 414-510-0385 for details) or mail a purchase order to Good Friend Inc., 808 Cavalier Dr., Waukesha WI  53186.  Note that 2-disc DVD sets (one of each elementary and middle school films in English) are now available for $99, but aren't yet featured in our online store.

Feel free to email Chelsea or Denise for more information.  Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Do you know a Good Friend in Education?

Nominations are due at the end of this month for the teacher, student, parent, and/or other supportive team member who's shown "good friend" behavior in school.  What does that mean?, you ask.  The awareness-acceptance-empathy® message isn't just a model -- it's a movement.  We want to know who in your school is reaching out to students with autism spectrum disorder and including them in a meaningful way.  Maybe it was something simple, such as initiating conversation on the playground.  Maybe it was a moment of exceeding expectations, such as during a small group project.  Perhaps it was the parent of a typically-developing child who encouraged her son to invite his friend with autism over for a play date.  Or perhaps it was a staff member who, after participating in a Good Friend in-service or other presentation, was moved to establish a purposeful culture of acceptance in her classroom.

We have heard many examples of Good Friend behavior over the years, and enjoy every story.  Please share yours with us.  To nominate someone for the 2011 Good Friend in Education Award, which is presented by Denise Schamens at our annual membership meeting in Waukesha in September, please email the following information to

  • Your (nominator's) name, title (if applicable), and the school name associated with the nominee
  • Your phone number
  • The nominee's name, grade/title (as applicable), and contact information (phone and/or email address)
  • Tell us in a 100-word (or less) essay why the nominee deserves the GFiE Award.

Call Denise at 262-391-1369 with any questions.  Here's to good friends!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Celebrate with us the premiere of "Choosing To Be a GFF" on March 27!

We couldn't be more thrilled to announce the first public screening of our latest original, independent film, "Choosing To Be a GFF [Good Friend Forever]".  Since last May, we've been writing, auditioning, casting, filming, directing, tweaking, editing, producing, and laboring over this enormous project, which will create autism awareness and teach peer acceptance to middle school audiences.  Though it's still not finished, we know it will all come together in time for you to join us at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis., at the Stackner Ballroom, beginning at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 27th.  Attire is formal in honor of the 19-member all-student cast who will attend with their families, also seeing their work on the big screen for the first time.  It should be an event to remember!

Space is limited in the venue, so we encourage you to register at your earliest convenience here:
Each guest needs to have a separate entry.  Seating will be general admission, except for our VIP guests (actors and up to four of their relatives and/or best friends), who will have priority arrangements.  If you are a VIP, please put "VIP" and the correlating actor's first name after your last name in the field.

We have created a Facebook event for this as well: Red Carpet Premiere Party.  While indicating attendance on this Facebook event will NOT automatically include you on the registered guest list, this will be the place we post the latest information as details develop.  So if you're so inclined, you may want to let us know you're coming there, too.

The Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin has given a generous $2,000 grant toward the film's production, and The Practical Club (Waukesha) will be a Red Carpet sponsor of the event.  Would you like to know more about sponsorship opportunities for either the film, the event, or both?  Please contact Chelsea Budde, 414-510-0385.

We look forward to seeing you next month!  Feel free to contact Chelsea or Denise with any questions.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

What will 2011 mean for you and the students in your life?  Will it be a year full of friends and inclusive opportunities in education?  Will you ride out the rest of the school year accepting a certain level of social and/or academic shortcomings in exchange for a relative peace in the classroom?  Would you be surprised to know that research indicates peer support improves both social and academic outcomes for both the student with special education needs and his/her mentor (Carter et al, 2008)?

Good Friend, Inc. is looking forward to all this year has to offer.  We might not have secured that Pepsi Refresh grant, but our middle school film Choosing To Be a Good Friend Forever will still be released this spring.  To date, all research supporting our programs has been anecdotal, but a Wisconsin university will soon undertake a study to prove the effectiveness of both our Peer Sensitivity Workshop and our staff in-service.  (If you want your Waukesha or Jefferson County school included, contact Chelsea Budde.)  And we're getting ready for our 3rd annual Hoa Aloha Autism Awareness Bowling Event on April 3 at New Berlin Bowl.  (Watch our website for online team registration beginning February 1.)

With all things being new again, maybe you're ready to jump in and support our autism awareness-acceptance-empathy™ mission on a whole new level.  If so, check out our opportunities posted at the Volunteer Center's website.  If you are looking to make another kind of contribution, perhaps through membership, check this out and click on the Membership page.

Here's to a year of healthy social relationships!  Let us know how Good Friend can support your school's goals in that regard.  Call Chelsea at 414-510-0385, or Denise at 262-391-1369.