Friday, August 30, 2013

Great opportunity for siblings of students with neurological differences!

For more than six years, Good Friend has been spreading its message about autism awareness, acceptance, and empathy to those who surround students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Along the way, and within co-founder Denise Schamens' own family, the unique challenges that the siblings of children with ASD face have become more visible to us as an organization.  That made us especially grateful to the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin for hosting a Sibshop facilitator training event  by Don Meyer, director of the Sibling Support Project, last spring in Milwaukee.

Speaker and author Don Meyer is a pioneer in the sibling movement; he has been at its forefront for more than 25 years.  He recognized the unique concerns and strengths of siblings of children with special needs ("sibs") and decided to do something to support them.  Siblings benefit, he says, from getting to know other sibs, taking in some information, being able to ask questions, and sharing the experience – good, bad or indifferent.

Sibshops offers a model intervention for sibling support, learning and fun.  It recognizes and reinforces a strengths-based approach. It also promotes relationship building between sibs through a variety of games and activities.  They reflect a belief that brothers and sisters have much to offer one another – if they are given a chance.

Sibshops are good for the soul.  They enrich the lives of the group leaders, sibling participants, and families as a whole.  They heighten public awareness that sibs matter and should not be an afterthought when it comes to supporting families of people with disabilities.

Good Friend is proud to announce our collaborative effort with Carroll University to provide Sibshops to sibs ages 8-13, who have a brother or sister with neurologically-based differences (ASD, cognitive disability, mental health challenges, etc.).  This is not to say that other disabilities aren't equally worthy of Sibshops, but that Good Friend's expertise lies in this area.

Events for the 2013-'14 school year will be held at the beautiful Carroll University Center for Graduate Studies, located at 2140 Davidson Rd., Waukesha, Wis.  Dates are Saturday mornings, starting in October: Oct. 5, Nov. 2, Dec. 7, Jan. 11, Feb. 1, (no March event) April 5, and May 3.  Each workshop will be from 9:00 a.m. to 12 noon, with a snack provided.  Registration fee is $15 per workshop or three for $30.  (In case of financial hardship that makes the registration fee prohibitive, please let us know.)

Please contact Denise Schamens for more info or to register for one or multiple dates!

Our mission power words are "Awareness Acceptance Empathy".  We teach peers in the schools to be good friends to someone with autism (and/or another brain-based disability).  Now it's time to be Good Friends to the sibs!  By educating, supporting and fostering friendships, we hope to help these precious children in their lifelong journey as Super Siblings!

We leave you with some insight from Super Sibs, as captured in Don Meyers' The Sibling Slam Book: What It's Really Like to Have a Brother or Sister with Special Needs (Woodbine House, 2005):

What life lesson have you learned from being a sib?
  • “To be understanding of other people’s difficulties, and have empathy for those who – through no fault of their own – are faced with enormous challenges, and to value each person’s unique attributes.” (Jenna H., 17)
  • “That no matter what I do he will always be there for me.  He’s my special light in the darkness; there when all other lights go out.” (Kathryn C., 14)
What’s the toughest thing about being a sib?
  • “Having to worry about the future of your sib.”  (Melisandre P., 14)
  • “I think it’s watching her fail.  The look in her eyes would send a full-grown man into tears.  Or her being denied opportunities that other kids have.” (Erin G., 14)
  • “Knowing that I will be able to do certain things someday that my sib probably won’t get to experience, like going to college, driving, or even living on my own.” (Emily P., 13)

Monday, August 19, 2013

UW-Whitewater Study of Good Friend Interventions

Last week, Denise and I attended and presented at the 6th annual WisABA Conference.  At first, the disparity between the numbers of capital letters after our last names representing our degrees and certifications was intimidating to me.  There we were, in the company of many highly-educated and -trained professionals in the fields of skilled service delivery to individuals with developmental disabilities including autism.  Their technical language was beyond my scope of understanding, in some cases.  And while I recognize and respect the appropriateness of such education and training, for certainly the population that they serve are highly-deserving of their formal preparation to provide therapeutic interventions, I appreciate the equal commitment parent-professionals like Denise and I possess.  Furthermore, we recognize the equal devotion to positive, measurable outcomes of our interventions.

Good Friend's desire to establish an evidence basis for our services was innate.  Since 2008, we'd been seeking an independent researcher to study the effectiveness of our interventions.  Because our interventions are with the classmates and educators surrounding the students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we knew the validation study would have to include hundreds of participants in dozens of services.

Though our first collaboration with UW-Madison disintegrated when the professor left for a position out-of-state, another door opened in 2010 through UW-Whitewater.  Dr. Simone DeVore met with Chelsea Budde and Denise Schamens to discuss the possibility of initiating a study of Good Friend’s elementary school services.   In 2011, Dr. DeVore and her colleague, Dr. Brooke Winchell, were able to observe our staff and student trainings and develop tools to measure change following our staff in-services and Peer Sensitivity Workshops (PSWs) for grades 3-5.  They then drafted a proposal to the university’s Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB) for approval to allow us to move forward with a pilot study.  Finding willing schools to participate in the pilot in the spring of 2012 paved the way for the next phase, which was the finalization of the tools and application for IRB approval of the full study.

The recruitment of participating schools began in the summer of 2012, with Letters of Affiliation from the University and Presentation Agreements from Good Friend.  Services were conducted between September, 2012, and May, 2013, at no charge to the host schools, but the school administrators were required to get consent from the students’ families to participate.  The schools also helped administer the pre- and post-intervention surveys, which contained both quantitative and qualitative questions.  In the end, the stack of data pictured in the last blog entry was the harvest of three years of collaboration, and was collected from some 800 participants.

Dr. DeVore and Dr. Winchell presented the findings to Denise and me earlier this month.  Based on the data collected through the study, we can say that Good Friend’s PSWs “highly influence” students’ survey answers regarding their understanding about autism (its cause and manifestations), their likelihood to interact with classmates with autism, and their comfort with doing so.  Data collected from the staff in-services highlights improved understanding of available resources, knowledge of strategies for disability harassment intervention, and confidence in working with their students with autism.

Some recurring appreciations from staff include the authenticity of our examples and personal stories, the common language we're able to provide participants, and the relevant resources we're able to explain and connect them with.  What they regret is not having the trainings earlier in the school year and more time to troubleshoot!  In some of the peer participants' comments, it's clear they've absorbed key concepts and are using the terminology accurately!

Denise is looking forward to attending Dr. Winchell's co-presentation with Dr. DeVore of "Autism Peer Intervention Validation Study: Promoting Teacher Knowledge and Peer Sensitivity", based on the research Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders’ annual conference in Chicago, Ill., next month.  The professors are also creating a presentation proposal for the university's Early Childhood Conference (April, 2014).  Furthermore, they are initiating a text analysis of six years’ worth of Good Friend student question cards collected during Good Friend's PSWs.
findings, at the

We are taking the study-based recommendations from the professors and tweaking our services, with the intention of collaborating again with the University in the coming years to do both PSW student subject case studies and longitudinal studies on PSW classrooms.

Frankly, it's a great time to hop on the Good Friend bandwagon!  If you'd like to contribute your time and talent to our mission, we'd be glad to have you!  Contact me or Denise and we'll get you plugged in.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A BIG week!

Sometimes, Mondays ROCK!  And yesterday was one of them.  Good Friend kicked off an exhilarating, exhausting week Monday morning with a summary of the findings of the research study conducted by two professors at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  We're reserving the best bits of news for the guests of our annual Member Appreciation Night this Friday!  But what we can say is that both our staff in-services and Peer Sensitivity Workshops make a measurable, positive difference in expanding autism awareness, acceptance, and empathy!  Denise and I are still trying to wrap our heads around the magnitude of Simone DeVore and Brooke Winchell's findings, which will be presented at the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders' annual conference in Chicago next month.
Dr. Brooke Winchell had her work cut out for her as she began to pour over the raw data from the surveys UW-W collected during Good Friend staff in-services and Peer Sensitivity Workshops in the 2012-'13 school year.

Zooming back to host the first of our two open casting calls for "We ALL Fit", our new elementary school peer autism awareness short film, we shifted from one excitement to another.  We met 23 hopefuls for the project, and are realizing we'll have some difficult decisions to make once we complete today's session.  We welcome you to audition!  We have some specific profiles we're looking for, and no acting experience is necessary.  Here's the list:

  • girl with autism, age 6-10, who has some reliable spoken language
  • boy with autism, age 7-11, who uses a type-to-speak device
  • boy age 2-4, dark-haired
  • girl age 2-4, blonde-haired, willing to have a tantrum for the camera
  • extras: six 10-11 year-olds (mix of boys and girls), three adults (age 25-65), two 12-15 year-olds

Just show up at Citizens Bank of Mukwonago in Waukesha near Center Rd. and Hwy. 59 and go upstairs to the Training Center between noon and 3 p.m. TODAY for a quick on-camera audition.  Call Denise at 262-391-1369 with any questions.

We hope to introduce you to at least a few of our 30 newly-chosen cast members at Friday's Member Appreciation Night.  How many more reasons do you need to join us??  Awards, celebrations, new study findings, an Aaron Rodgers autographed football up for grabs ... PHEW!  Like I said, it's a BIG week!  If you plan to be at Steinhafels in the Community Room at 7 p.m. on Friday, please email Denise if she doesn't know already.