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Autism Awareness Month Feature: Dental Desensitization Program Developed at CREC River Street School is Growing

Seven years ago, behavior analysts and nurses at the CREC River Street School Autism Program at the Birken Campus developed a Dental Desensitization Program to help a child with autism who was unable to sit through routine dental visits without being restrained or sedated. The program succeeded in teaching the child to tolerate exams without behaviors, and she began visiting the dentist on a more regular basis. Since then, the program has grown to include more and more children, a simulated dental suite and partnerships with multiple organizations around the state.This procedure, developed in 2010, utilized a comprehensive strategy that breaks down the dental routine into very small steps and reinforces toleration to each step. When the child exhibited avoidance behaviors, we reinforced her for completing previously mastered steps and then reintroduced an easier version of the avoided step. Initially, staff used space in the school nurse’s office as a practice area. Over time and with donations from community dentists, a simulated dental suite with dental chair and modified dental instruments was completed. Also, we developed a relationship with the Dental Coordinator for the CT Department of Developmental Services and directors of the Dental Hygiene program at Lincoln College of New England – Southington Campus. Students in the Associate Degree program in dental hygiene travel to our school, weekly, to learn about our strategy and work with our children. Through this collaboration, our children are provided exposure to health care professionals and the dental hygiene students gain knowledge and practical experience that can transfer to helping children with autism in community dental offices. Recently, we partnered with dental students and professors at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine (UConn) and the UConn Special Care Dentistry Interest Group. The students provide generalization opportunities for our children at the UConn Kane Street Special Care Connection Program in West Hartford. These visits allow our children to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of the actual dental office setting. Our partnerships with Lincoln College and UConn have enhanced learning for our children and increased the likelihood of their success during their own community dental visits. Lastly, we presented our program at annual conferences including the Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis and Therapy (BABAT) and the Connecticut Association for Behavior Analysis (CTABA). Recently, the CT Department of Public Health invited us to present information about our program to dental hygienists servicing children with special needs in local school districts. We are very excited about all of our opportunities and hope to continue to promote better dental health outcomes for children with autism.For information about our program, please contact Dianne Soucy, MA, BCBA and Jocelyn Pardi ,RN @ (860) 727-8481.

CREC Arts Academy Junior Roshae Harrison Turned Racist Encounter into Winning Poem

Roshae Harrison, a 16-year-old black girl from Hartford, was once a blond and her hair color – she was in the process of going purple – attracted racist slurs from a man on the street.“He called me the N-word and said I shouldn’t have blond hair. I just had to keep walking,” said Roshae, a junior at the CREC Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts High School. “That happened a long time ago and I hadn’t thought about it until the presidential campaign.”The experience turned into a poem, the winning poem in the 2017 Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens Student Poetry Competition. The prize includes a $1,000 scholarship. Roshae was honored at a reception at the University of Connecticut and performed her poem in front of students at Greater Hartford Classical Magnet High School.The poem, “What You Told Me,” opens with a description of her experience and the advice her parents gave her.“They told me the only way to defeat people like that is to get an education, that I need to go to college, learn more about where I come from and learn how to be an activist for my people,” Roshae said. “It’s a call to action about how the parents of minorities have to teach their children different lessons than what white people go through, like how to address the police, how to walk down the street, what to say to people, how to talk to people, all that stuff to protect you from bad things happening because of the color of your skin.”Roshae has been writing since she was 10. She started with profuse, emotional journal entries that evolved into poetry and then short fiction. When she’s not composing poems she writes short horror stories and she recently started dabbling with sci-fi. Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes are among her favorite writers. She sees herself possibly becoming a journalist or a lawyer down the line.

CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering Hosts Basketball Clinic at CREC River Street School

On March 13, the students in the extended stay program at River Street School were treated to a basketball clinic put on by the girls’ basketball team from the CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering.As part of their community service, the team decided to stay close to home to work on a project with their Windsor neighbors - the students at River Street. Head Coach Jane Manby and her players walked over to River Street School to lead the clinic. Sixteen students participated in 45 minutes of dribbling, passing, and shooting drills. The activity was a great success with all of the students actively participating. Team members were especially enthusiastic and encouraging towards the RSS students. John Kaplan, extended day program manager, told the coach that the students don’t often get opportunities to interact with "typical" peers and that this was truly a special activity for them. At the conclusion of the clinic, the girls and students lined up and exchanged "hi-fives" as the RSS students returned to their classrooms. The CREC Public Safety Academy’s boys’ basketball team put on a similar activity earlier in the year. The extended day program has also established a relationship with students from the Loomis Chaffee School who come throughout the year for joint recreational activities. All of these activities offer the RSS students opportunities to socialize and interact with "typical" peers within the school setting. They also offer the students from the other programs an opportunity to learn about and interact with people on the Autism Spectrum.

Juvenile Detention Center Education Program Students Engage in Lesson about Air Resistance

Students in the CREC Juvenile Detention Center Education Program spent a day in March learning the effects of air resistance on falling objects. The lesson, taught with parachutes, was part of the Connecticut Science Center Outreach Program.During the visit, organized by HJDC science teacher, Everett Hillman, students created and tested parachutes to determine how air resistance affects falling objects. Science learning was enhanced for both staff and students as everyone participated in this hands-on enrichment activity. Two of our students’ parachutes were selected by the program facilitators to be displayed at the Science Center in Hartford. The program was funded by a grant from the CT Science Center.

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