Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Photography Program

Some photographers spend their whole lives looking for that one picture that will make history and break all the records.  And all of those photographers start out somewhere.  Brand new this semester, OUCARES is offering a photography program for teens on the autism spectrum.  In this program, participants learn about three kinds of photos: scenic, or nature photos, action or moving shots, and candid or shots portraying people and their feelings.

Business owner Stephanie Aberlich was the instructor for this program.  Aberlich is the president and founder of Hatch Boutique, a photography d├ęcor company located in Royal Oak.  Hatch Boutique specializes in family portraits, portraits of weddings and of babies.  Stephanie is enthusiastic about passing on her skills to the talented individuals with autism.

I stopped by the photography program a few days ago.  During this meeting, they were making a collage of everything they had done prior to this point.  Aberlich was working with one of the participants to select scenic, action, and candid photos out of a celebrity magazine for the collage.  Personally, I believe that encouraging those with autism to exercise their creativity does wonders for them.  I know that it really helped me.

Aberlich is hoping for a greater turnout the next time this photography program is offered.  This term’s program only had two participants.  Regardless of that, Aberlich gave each of the students the care and dedication that she would give a room full of participants.

For more information about this photography program, visit the OUCARES website at

For more information about Hatch Boutique, visit their website at

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

OUCARES Baseball Program

The Detroit Tigers may not have made it through the playoffs this year, but that was not through lack of trying.  Of all the professional sports played in the United States today, baseball is probably the most unique and the most inspirational.

OUCARES offers a baseball program for children and teens with autism.  This program is organized and run by the Oakland University Baseball Team.  The players teach the program participants the basics of baseball.
When I was growing up, I played a little baseball.  I wasn’t very serious about the sport though and didn’t play past fifth grade.  Those who play to a college level have skills that many do not have.  They are proud to pass those skills on to the special kids with autism.
“Determination is a trait that many baseball players’ posses, but I have learned this trait in a new light being around the kids from OUCARES,” said senior Greg Welke, who ran the baseball program and is the pitcher of the OU team. Welke continued, “Each and every day (the kids) would show up to the baseball program with smiles on their faces and ready to have fun and learn.”

Welke is majoring in marketing with a production operation management minor at Oakland University.  He is a senior planning to graduate this December. 

Even though I have been a student for three years at Oakland University, I made my first trip down the hill to the baseball field to watch the baseball program.  Happiness was evident on all the faces.  The participants showed enthusiasm for all aspects of the game.  The players learn as much from them as they teach.

“They really teach us that it is not all about winning and losing, it's about having fun,” said Dale “DJ” Jarrad, a marketing major graduating in December.  Jarrad is currently an assistant coach on the baseball team.  Prior to that, Jarrad was the team short stop.

 Other members of the team agree.  Senior general management major Dan Augustine said “These kids really put things in perspective for us.”  Augustine is a pitcher who is also graduating this December.

While building relationships with the team members, the children with autism learn life-long social skills that they can keep the rest of their lives.  Greg Welke could not agree more.

Welke said, “During the (programs) I did my best to learn each participants name and develop a friendship with them. One of my favorite memories of OUCARES is the kids coming down to the field and they would come up to me and know my name and start a conversation.”

For more information about the baseball program, visit the OUCARES website:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Social Skills Program

The social skills that most people take for granted just do not come naturally to those on the autism spectrum.  Many aspects have to be taught in a way that, for the longest time, many experts did not understand.  As more is learned about autism, teaching social skills to those with autism becomes easier and more methodical. 

OUCARES offers several social skills classes for those on the spectrum.  On Wednesday, I stopped by Social Skills one, which taught skills to young children in early elementary school.  One thing that was taught to me by my parents was just because I had some trouble learning social skills, did not mean that no effort should be taken to teach the skills to me.  Through a disciplined environment where rules were maintained, I was able to learn the skills I needed to function in school and work environments.  

The same thing was being done here in this social skills class.  One thing I have learned both through living on the spectrum myself and observing others on the spectrum is that it is difficult for someone to tell if we are really listening.  I could avoid eye contact, be preoccupied with something, give no signs of listening when really absorbing every word.  The problem is, these are the same exact signs that people give when they are not listening at all.

During the twenty minutes I observed the class, I noticed how Rebecca Anders, the instructor for this social skills class, was very consistent with her directions and rules.  By creating a stable environment, young children with autism can learn to function in a world that contradicts his or her instincts regarding acceptable behavior.  

As an individual on the autism spectrum myself, I would definitely recommend this camp to any parent who has a child on the autism spectrum.  It is hard for a child with autism to learn the social skills they need to function in school and eventually the work place.  Some of the skills I witnessed the kids learning here were skills that I could have used at age seven.  I was not diagnosed with autism until I was twelve. 

For more information about OUCARES Social Skills classes, visit the OUCARES website at

Martial Arts Program

It is said that practicing martial arts can improve both the body and mind.  Did you know that martial arts can help children with autism?  Practicing simple routines can improve an autistic child’s focus and motor skills in other areas of life.

First offered in 2007, the OUCARES martial arts class does this and more.  Certified instructors teach self defense basics to a group of individuals with autism.  This fall, sensei or instructors are Richard Bole and Alissa Ignatius from Shelby Martial Arts Academy.

As with the dedication to any art, the practice of martial arts can really calm the mind while making the practitioner more aware of their bodily functions.  This is from an outsider’s perspective.  I have never practiced martial arts myself but I have done some reading.   From what I have read, it is clear to me that martial arts can really become a mindset.  You have to gain awareness that transcends from the type of awareness that everyone experiences.  Again, this is just my insight from an outsider’s perspective.

Some individuals with autism live in a sensory distorted world.  I think that this clear mindset obtained from martial arts, this acute awareness of the body, can really help in all areas of life.  I can relate my experience from a different area: playing the clarinet.  When I was a beginner, I had to constantly check my keys to make sure that my fingers were covering the right holes.  From the position the clarinet is played, the keys are outside of my range of vision so it takes extra effort to check fingerings. This is something a performer can’t do while playing on stage.  

This is the same in a child with autism.  While growing up on the spectrum, I had to constantly check with people: is this something I should say to a group of friends?  What do you say when someone tells you this?  I basically had to make up for my lack of natural social skills by asking many questions that one would not normally expect.  My autism is very mild, so I can just imagine how someone who has moderate to severe autism might act: there could be a lack of awareness of what their body is doing.  Someone with severe autism is swinging their arm around wildly, they are not aware of doing this.  Their mind is preoccupied with something other than what their arm is doing.

Through martial arts, I can imagine that an individual with autism would grow more comfortable and more aware of their own body.  They would become like me and the clarinet.  After playing that instrument for thirteen years, I no longer have to look at the keys to check if I am playing the right notes.  I am more aware of what I am doing because I have gained experience.  The martial arts camp offered by OUCARES can help individuals with autism to gain that experience, that mindset that might be difficult to obtain any other way.

For more information about the martial arts camp, visit the OUCARES website at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

After Hours Adult Social

Social interaction may not be natural for those with autism, but it does not mean that those skills cannot be learned.  OUCARES offers opportunities on a monthly basis for adults with autism so that they are able to practice their social skills in a fun, interactive environment.

The After-Hours adult social is held once a month.  The event takes place in Bumpers Game room, which is in the lower level of the Oakland Center, on campus at Oakland University.  There is no cost to attend the adult social, although donations are greatly appreciated.  

“After Hours” is offered through OUCARES and funded by ASA/OCC, which is a support group for those 18 years and older, who have Aspergers Syndrome, HFA, or PDD/NOS.

I was diagnosed with PDD/NOS when I was twelve.  I am senior attending Oakland University for marketing and creative writing.  A few months ago, I received the opportunity to attend the After-Hours Adult Social.  While I am autistic, I am very high functioning.   Often my symptoms can pass unnoticed by those who do not have autism.   I had a great time hanging out with the people at the event.  I learned how to play a new strategy game called Pente, and while I didn’t win, I still had an enjoyable time. 

The next After-Hours Adult social will be held on Monday, November 21st from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Stop by for a night of pizza, conversations, cards, billiards, and most of all, fun!