Giving Back to the Community

When Nicholas was in high school, volunteer work was just a natural part of his life. His high school teacher, Brenda, did a wonderful job getting him out several times a week. One of his favorites was a local church that he vacuumed by Cuyahoga Falls High School.

When we moved, the first thing I discovered was the Deaf Outreach Church. It was like kismet! What a perfect place for him to do volunteer work. I sent them an email and received a immediate response for Nicholas & I to meet both of the Pastor’s of the church.


It will be 2 years soon since that wonderful day when we met the Pastor’s and the Deacons of the church. As you can see from the pictures, Nicholas is absolutely euphoric vacuuming their entire church! It has become our Monday morning gig. I am so proud of him for never once complaining and digging in as soon as we arrive! He never needs to be rewarded, he simply enjoys it for what it is.

-Kathie

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Read About the Benefits of Art Therapy

Creativity isn’t something that can be forced. It can motivate us when we least expect it. We find inspiration in all that is around us. In nature, in our community, in those we care about. In the events which move us and shake us to our foundation. Sometimes creativity is fueled by the darkness within ourselves. In the parts of us that make us vulnerable. It can reveal what we are unable to express with words alone.

My family and I have found that what fuels Nicholas’ drive to produce art is enthusiasm, curiosity, and watching others enjoy his finished creations. What more, he is continuously expanding his knowledge with fun and creative ideas so that he never loses interest in his work. There are several techniques that we practice with him while he paints that are more about creating an enjoyable experience than the painting itself.

Mixing acrylic paint – While mixing different color paints together, Nicholas appears to have an ASMR response. Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia.

 

Mixing paints is just one of the methods that can invoke this stimulating response. There are many video compilations available online that display mixing paints together while paired along with soothing music. In Nicholas’ case, when he watches someone mix paint in front of him, he becomes very focused and relaxed. This activity has been an excellent way of distracting him from what was bothering him at that moment.

Listening to music – While in Nicholas’ studio, we will often have music playing in the family room for some background noise. Some of his favorite music includes bands such as Rush, Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Alicia Keys, Ja Rule, and the many pop bands from his childhood. Listening to music that is more upbeat always helps get the inspirations flowing.

 

Throwing paint – This is mostly just for fun but can also serve as a viable technique to improve upon an abstract painting. Allowing the brush to flick and throw paint at random can give a work of art new and surprising dimension. Nicholas finds throwing paint to be enjoyable as it always puts a smile on his face.

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Using visual aids – Sometimes the best way for us to learn is through example. It’s not always easy to explain a new painting technique to someone with autism who cannot readily grasp the notion or they have auditory delays. In order to overcome this hurdle, we give Nicholas visual references in the interest of helping him experiment with different techniques. That way it is easier for him to mimic that specific style of artwork while improving upon it using his own methods.

Positive reinforcement and humor – What you should know about Nicholas is that he has a well-developed sense of humor. He loves to laugh, make comedic noises, and play pranks. What makes painting so much fun for him is the experience of interacting with us in his joking manner. He may not always fathom what we are saying but he can understand the positive tones in our voices. By reminding him of what a great job he’s doing and keeping up the pleasant vibes, he is getting a consistent stream of positive reinforcement.

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-Natasha

“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.” – Vincent van Gogh

The Positive Effects of Animal Assisted Therapy for those with ASD

When Nicholas was a child, our dad would take him hiking every weekend for his joint compression therapy. During these hikes, there had been numerous incidents where dog owners had refused to leash their pets. Doing what dogs do, they would run away to greet random strangers. So every once in awhile, my brother would run into a dog that was violent to the point of causing him injury. Can you imagine an animal running towards you, jumping at you, and being unable to comprehend the dogs intentions? Consequently, those sequences of events are what instilled a fear of dogs into Nicholas that lasted for eight years.

From articles that I’ve read, exposure to animals has shown to be beneficial to the social and emotional development of children with autism. Spending time with pets can even help in building self-esteem. Unfortunately, our family never owned pets while growing up besides the occasional hamster or fish. They were concerned that having a dog around after those traumatic events would disrupt the peace in the household that our parents wanted to maintain as much as possible.

Throughout the years at his former day program, Nicholas interacted with handpicked, docile pups in a secure environment. He was able to feel safe without having to anticipate being jumped on or charged at. Steadily his nervousness towards dogs began to ease the more he spent time with them. While we were very pleased that he was able to overcome a childhood fear, we found that dogs are too rambunctious and agitate his sensory sensitivity towards certain noises. Dogs, as unconditionally loving and energetic as they are, are not for everyone.

Buddha and Slade

Nicholas likes having cats even though he is pretty nonchalant with them. Our cats Buddha and Slade have behaviors that are, for the most part, predictable to him and they don’t cause him any undue stress. Nor are they emotionally overwhelming or as loud as some dogs can be. Everyone is different but in Nicholas’ case, cats are the best kind of pets to have around.

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Storm (left) and Brooks (right)

At least once a week or as often as daily, our mom and Nicholas will go out to the park to feed apples and carrots to the local horses. When he started visiting them, he was a little intimidated by their large stature. Over time, he began to appreciate their calm and peaceful nature. He always anticipates his visits to the park.

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Storm and Brooks know Nicholas on sight and will always come running to him when they know he has food.

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Nicholas is always mindful to take turns and give each horse an equal amount of food.

We are fortunate to have local therapeutic equestrian farms meant specifically for those with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities. The most influential one in our area is Pegasus Farms out in Hartville, OH. Their mission is, “to maximize the potential of persons with disabilities to become independent, well-rounded, self-confident individuals by providing equine activities along with recreational, social, and vocational support”. They have a wide selection of horses with various distinct personalities and sizes meant to match specifically to the right person.

Exposing animals to those with disabilities in a safe environment can be very beneficial to their development, especially early on in childhood. We are eternally grateful that these programs are available to provide an atmosphere where people like Nicholas don’t have to be apprehensive and can enjoy the experience to its fullest.

-Natasha