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Motivation Is The Key!

We had another busy day of cooperative sessions today. In the morning session, one of the key things that we worked on with Ali’s mother and teachers was ensuring that he was motivated by a toy, activity or social interaction before attempting to teach. Everyone who spent time with him found something that motivated him; he enjoyed bubbles, tickles and, most successfully, playing songs on a tablet. When his teacher started using this he immediately came over to her and she was able to start teaching him to request for it using a vocal approximation rather than just grabbing for it. Ali sometimes finds it difficult to leave his mother to spend time with other adults, but he did particularly well in this session as he was able to build relationships with two teachers who were new to him.

In the afternoon we had an intensive role play session with teachers. I enjoyed this because it meant that I got to act as a child again! We gave each teacher some basic information about the “child”, for example, in one scenario I pretended to be a child who could make some vocal approximations and banged my feet on the floor in order to try and gain attention. We also gave the teachers some goals and then let them work out how best to teach these and interact with the “child”. The teachers had to combine all the skills that they’ve been taught so far and they also practised some new skills, such as using a token board.

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Amal did some fantastic coaching in these sessions and it was great to find that so many times when I wanted her to translate something for me she’d already just given feedback on the very same thing. Although I was being taught skills such as identifying different items, sorting objects and responding to social greetings, it was often genuine teaching as I was being taught in a language that I do not know; I’m pleased to say that thanks to my teachers I learnt some new Arabic words today!

– Sarah

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What More Could We Ask For?

Today we had our first cooperative sessions after Eid break. We woke up early to start planning and preparing the toys and the materials we need. Sarah did an amazing job this morning adding her own touch on the shakers, which we previously made using water bottles and pasta, by adding some colorful decoration papers inside the bottles to make it more fun for the children.

In our morning session we had so much fun with our little man, Amjed. We worked with him on identifying some clothes items and table utensils, and on practicing imitation skills, while also focusing on his requesting skills. He was very motivated to play with a balloon we filled with pasta. He liked shaking it and roaming around the room with a big smile on his cute face! He learned to identify t-shirt, shorts and socks very quickly. He was also able to identify a spoon, a fork and a plate with minimal help. By the end of the session, he was very motivated to play with the bubbles. Therefore, we decided to teach him to make some vocalization along with pointing to the item to request for it. After few tries, he was reliably making a sound every time he requested the bubbles. His mother, the teacher, and of course us, were so proud of what Amjed achieved today!

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Between the two sessions we had our lunch in the center and continued to prepare for our session with Haya. We planned to work with Haya today on expressive communication, requesting specifically, and some receptive communication skills like identifying body parts and identifying table utensils. At the beginning, she was motivated by the Playdoh, the ball and the board marker. She was able to identify body parts independently without prompting. She was also identifying table utensils with less prompting than previously. Towards the middle of the session, Haya was gradually losing interest in everything we had in the room. We decided to try something new, and the language building cards that Qiess made were a brilliant idea. She was independently identifying some types of food and clothes with minimal prompting, and with a lot of adorable laughs each time after getting the correct card! She absolutely loved them! What reinforced her behavior every time she identified the correct card was that she got to take the card and put it back inside the bag. It was a very successful session for Haya.

We couldn’t stop smiling when we came back to our apartment after this amazing day!

Watching the kids’ progress has been one of our best reinforcers!

-Amal

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We Need Fun Time Together

Today we had another support group in which the parents and siblings were all together in one group for the activities. We began by checking in with parents on how they’d got on with their ‘homework’ from our last session. We’d challenged each parent to take 30 minutes for herself in which she does something that she enjoys, rather than something that she is doing for the benefit of her family.

Despite telling us that they never take time to do something for themselves, our parents exceeded our expectations on this challenge! One parent had started taking time every day to focus on herself, and spent that time washing her hair and generally looking after herself. Another mother had gone to the shops that she wanted to visit rather than going to get things for her family. They were grateful that our challenge had given them a reason to find time for themselves and one parent commented “the more I take care of myself the more it will impact on how well I can take care of my family”.

We then moved on to the focus of today’s session; being creative and taking time to play as a family. We gave the families some plastic bottles and some materials that they could get creative with (glitter, pens, tinsel and of course dry pasta). They used these things to design and make something that they could use in a game with their children at home. Some of the bottles were very visual with glitter that swirled around in the water when you shook it, and others were more auditory with pasta that rattled around inside. Everyone had a lot of fun making these and one parent told us “we really need this, we need this fun time together”. We’re looking forward to hearing how they get on playing with their new creations at home.

– Sarah

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Back To Training Today!

After the short Eid break, we met our families and teachers again today for our training session. We went to the center earlier this morning to have everything ready by the time they arrive. Printing, connecting the projector, turning on the AC… now to start the session!

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Our training session today was about teaching new skills to children with autism. Some concepts on this training were a refresh of previous training sessions, and some concepts were new. To make the new concepts simple and easy to understand, we provided different examples and demonstrations on teaching different skills like brushing teeth and writing numbers in Arabic.

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Our teachers and parents gave great examples too throughout the training. One of the parents gave an example on how she used the ABC strategy to explain to her husband the correct way of dealing with their daughter’s behavior of ripping papers. After analyzing it, she was able to come up with different ways to intervene on this behavior.

We also had an activity to practice writing behavioral goals. A parent shared with us a goal that she will use on the skill of requesting for her son. As a start, the goal was “requesting for food from me 3 times per day across 3 different days”. She added that once he is able to do this, she will gradually advance it by requiring him to make requests from his father and other family members too. To know that the parents and teachers are applying the concepts they learn in our trainings makes us feel so proud.

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During a 10-minute break in the middle of the session, one of our amazing teachers, Nour Al-Huda, distributed some candy to us and to other teachers and parents for Eid. It was like a mini Eid celebration as everyone in the room was sharing Eid greetings with each other.

After the break, we talked about error-less learning and retraining. One of our teachers related to the concept of retraining with an example on how she gradually lost her English speaking skills after not practising it in Turkey.

We concluded with a brief summary about everything we covered in the session.

After coming back to our apartment and having lunch, we were excited to start preparing for tomorrow’s super fun activities in our support sessions with parents and siblings.

Can’t wait to share it with you!

Stay tuned to tomorrow’s blog!

– Amal

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Highlights Of The Mersin Program So Far

Over the weekend I was thinking about my top 5 highlights of the project so far:

  • Parent support groups. These take place once a week (at the same time as the groups for siblings). In these groups it’s been great to see a group of parents of children with autism build relationships with each other. None of them knew anyone else who also had a child with autism prior to joining the programme. They have gradually become more confident in sharing information about their lives and we now see them chatting and joking with each other. We have had lots of fun in these groups and the parents have commented many times that they get to do activities that they don’t usually have the opportunity to do.
  • Interactive training sessions. We try to make our training sessions as interactive as possible and we’ve had such a great group of parents and teachers who are always willing to answer questions, take data on our behaviours, and share stories and examples from their own lives. They have kept us particularly entertained with their excellent role play skills- they are very convincing at pretending to be children! We recently had our mid-point review training, which we did in the form of a quiz show. We were pleasantly surprised by how much they remembered and how competitive they were. The hardest part for us was actually mediating between the different teams in terms of how many points they scored!

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  • Expressive communication cooperative session. This was one of my favourite cooperative sessions because we began to teach the children how powerful their communication can be. When the children were motivated to communicate (we found that bubbles were a particularly desirable item) some of the children were making their first ever appropriate communication requests!

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  • Evidence based practices in the classroom. Qiess’ presentation for teachers was on how to integrate some of the teaching strategies into a mainstream classroom that may include some children with learning disabilities. It was great to listen to someone so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his area of expertise. He was actively trying to solve the problems that the teachers were having in their classrooms and ensure that the training was relevant to them; not an easy task when the teachers can have up to 45 mixed ability students in one class!

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  • Community outings. These are great opportunities for some intensive work with a parent and child with autism on the things that are most important for them in their day-to-day lives. We’ve been with parents and provided coaching on how to teach their child to behave appropriately when walking in the community and while shopping.

There have been so many highlights so far that it was difficult to choose these five, let’s see what the next few weeks will bring…

-Sarah

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Preparations Continue…

This morning, after we had a delicious breakfast of fresh watermelon and cheese, we took a long walk to discover the area around us and buy some supplies for our support group sessions next week. We are so excited to see parents and siblings using these supplies next week, stay tuned!

Although it was very hot this afternoon in Mersin, it rained for around five minutes. After that, the clouds partially blocked the sun’s rays, which made the weather nicer for few hours.

On our trip, we found a nice coffee shop that had comfy chairs and air-conditioning (which we very much needed at this point of our trip). We had some freshly baked Börek (Turkish pastries filled with cheese) and some cappuccino. On our way back, we found a stationary shop and we decided to check it out to continue shopping for the program supplies. After buying what we needed for next week’s sessions, we bought some beautiful adult coloring books for ourselves. Those books had different pictures of the fascinating Istanbul, which we will enjoy coloring in our free time.

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After we came back, to continued working on preparing and translating our sessions for our families and teachers. We also brain-stormed some demonstrations that would help get a better understanding of the concepts we will present in our trainings.

– Amal

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Catch Up And Reflection Day In Mersin

Today we had a quiet but productive day organising ourselves, reflecting on everything that we’ve done so far and making plans for the rest of the programme. We started the day by giving the apartment a thorough clean whilst singing along to some of our favourite music. We then spent some time going through the planned schedule of the weeks that we have left, making some alterations to some of the training presentations as well as continuing to translate them. We’re now past the halfway point of the programme and it’s great to see how much of a difference we’re making for the families and parents that we’re working with.

We went for a walk in our local area in the afternoon; the atmosphere in Mersin is very festive at the moment and there are many people sitting and swimming at the beach with their families. It’s also very hot and it was relieving whenever we stepped into a shop with air conditioning! In the evening we experimented with the television in our apartment (which until this point we have barely acknowledged was there). We watched The Chronicles of Narnia which was nostalgic for me as the Narnia books (that the film was based on) were among my favourites as a child. A film full of magic left us feeling creative and anticipating what could happen in the next six weeks of the programme.

– Sarah

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5 Favorite Things About The Mersin Program!

(Believe me, the list can go up to 100!)

#5: The beach!

Mersin is located on the Mediterranean Sea. It is famous for the wonderful beaches during the summer.  Walking on the beach was one of our favorite things to do after spending the day at the center. Our team members enjoy running, listening to music, relaxing and sometimes dancing on the beach.

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#4: Team bonding activities

Going out for coffee, baking together, playing cards, learning some self-defense moves, and more! We spent a lot of fun times together as a team. Also, being a diverse team coming from different cultures and backgrounds for the same purpose contributed to creating an energetic team spirit throughout the program.

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#3: Cooperative sessions

All of us get so excited on the day where we have our beautiful families with their kids. Those days are always full of surprises. Saying the first word, making the first request, enjoying the bubbles and many other simple joyful moments make those sessions so special.

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#2: Parent and sibling support sessions

Our families and siblings enjoy these sessions the most. They enjoy playing fun games, participating in different activities and reflecting on them, and we always appreciate the conversations we have with them afterwards.

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#1: The unicorn on my head!

Each of our team members has a unicorn on their heads. We consult this unicorn before taking any actions in our lives. We met our unicorns here in Mersin during the first week of the program. Our unicorns had been so helpful so far!

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– Amal

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Iron Chef: A Global Voice for Autism Edition

This weekend, we decided to spend our time doing team bonding activities. On Friday, Qiess taught us some Capoeira moves, which is a Brazilian martial art that combines music, dance, and acrobatics. We moved our bodies to the beats of Capoeira music as well as shook off the exhaustion of an intense and hectic week.

On Saturday, Sarah kick-started her day with the intense exercise of running up and down the stairs of our 8-storey building. Then, she followed this with a set of push ups and crunches on the rooftop of the building, the breeziest spot in the area with a panoramic view of Mersin. In the afternoon, Melissa suggested making A Global Voice for Autism version of Iron Chef by asking each team member to cook their favorite dish or a dish they are really good at. After making a big mess in the kitchen, burning dough, and piling heaps of dirty dishes, we came up with a selection of chocolate crepes, vanilla ice cream topped with red cherries, and labneh and mint bites. Sarah and Qiess were the judges. Sarah said that all our dishes were very nice and delicious, while Qiess enjoyed being the mean judge and pointing out every flaw in our dishes, from dough texture, to the degree of sweetness. We wrapped up the day with a card game called spoons.

Sunday wasn’t less exciting than the previous days. Our self-defense teacher, Qiess, decided that we need to learn some punching, kicking and boxing move that can help us defeat the evil in the world. After several trials of punching, where I punched my own face and other objects in the living room, I was eventually able to punch Qiess in the face the correct way. Melissa and Amal mastered the punch move in no time. Now, we our team is ready to go in the streets and have a street-fight.
We concluded the week with preparing for our next training, which is a review of the previous trainings in the form of a Jeopardy game. Follow us to learn more about our activities and the work we do!

-Hana

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What Do Butterflies, Bees and Roses Have To Do With Autism?

Today, as our last activity before Eid break, we gathered some of the families and teachers in our program for a jeopardy review session. We divided the groups into teams and had them choose team names. Apparently everyone was in a gardening mood today because they named themselves The Butterflies, The Bees and The Roses. IMG_2012

The competition was intense and the teams had were neck and neck as they sought to win a gift from my trip to Romania next week.

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As they huddled together to answer the Final Jeopardy question, we could hear them contemplating whether or not they won.

With 445 points, The Roses were the winners! Fortunately, everyone was a good sport and to celebrate their great teamwork and support of one another, everyone who came today will be getting a gift from Romania next week.

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-Melissa