Empowering Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders is the Goal of Newly Launched “Keeping it Real” Project

“If we are going to keep it real about autism, we must have autistic individuals take the lead in educating others about their experience,” said Kristie Patten Koenig, NYU Steinhardt assistant professor of occupational therapy and project director of the “Keeping it Real” campaign. “Additionally, we have to partner with advocates to encourage a strength-based approach that doesn’t center on remediating weaknesses.”

Supported by the FAR Fund and a $25,000 grant from Autism Speaks, the “Keeping it Real” project works in conjunction with the ASD Nest Support Project at NYU to develop strength-based models, services, and programs for middle-school children in the ASD Nest program a New York City Department of Education program that educates children with ASD in inclusive classrooms alongside their typical peers.

As part of the project, three ASD self-advocates will travel to participating ASD Nest schools educating teachers, staff, and middle school students, both on and off the spectrum, on how to incorporate lessons of anti-bullying, self-advocacy, and the use of individual strengths and talents into the classroom and everyday school setting.  Jesse A, Saperstein, motivational speaker, ASD advocate, and best-selling author of “Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters,” kicked-off the campaign Tuesday, March 5 at Channel View School for Research. Saperstein’s speech focused on anti-bullying, which recent studies show affects ASD students at a high rate.

“Ideally, I would like to help create the first anti-bullying curriculum in New York City. New York City is possibly the most compassionate city in the world,” Saperstein stated. “But overall, ‘Keeping it Real’ should let people know there is hope and through looking at what I have accomplished in my life, what may happen when someone with challenges is offered a chance.”

The next round of “Keeping it Real” speakers include Stephen Shore who will focus on utilizing strengths and talents to assist ASD students in channeling their interests into social and vocational opportunities. Zosia Zaks will tackle the issue of self-advocacy, for example, articulating one’s needs in an overwhelming sensory environment.

“Teaching our students about working together and accepting each other is important to prevent bullying and encourage young adults to support each other,” said Pat Tubridy, Channel View principal.

Koenig’s previous Autism research was published in the September/October 2012 issue of The American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Her study showed that by tapping into students strengths and using the daily yoga regimen, “Get Ready to Learn,” resulted in a significant decrease in aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity for autistic students attending District 75’s P.S. 176X in the Bronx. The school serves the largest population of students on the Autism Spectrum in the nation.