Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

Posts tagged ‘The Learning Academy’

Farewell Dr. Berkman

Mixed emotions are in abundance here at CARD-USF. We’ve all known this day would eventually arrive but we didn’t anticipate it coming so fast. It seems like it was yesterday she was whispering the words, “I’m going to retire next year”, yet here we are looking at her last week as Executive Director. To say Dr. Karen Berkman will be missed is a true understatement. Many of us, her included, are so busy preparing and planning that it keeps us from stopping and thinking about the sadness of it all. Which is good, keeps the tears at bay for a while longer. After 16 extraordinary years leading CARD-USF, Karen will set out on a new adventure; retirement. Although we as a group couldn’t be more excited for her, we are sad to see her go.

Karen is the true definition of a leader. She is determined, forthright, and has the ability to inspire those around her. She has pushed us to great heights and constantly nudges us to think bigger, smarter and beyond by asking “what’s next?”. However, at the same time, she is compassionate, understanding and willing to stop at nothing to make sure we have all we need for the overall success of our work.

She has had such an impact on families and individuals on the autism spectrum. Whether it was from creating The Learning Academy for young adults to learn employment skills, to creating the Autism Friendly Business initiative after seeing a need in the community; she has the keen sense of seeing a need and from that creating something amazing. She was instrumental in the development of the Autism Friendly Tampa Initiative along with the City of Tampa and former Mayor, Bob Buckhorn. She served on the Governor’s Autism Task Force to help implement changes to the state. She also brought CARD-USF and HIPPY together for a collaborative effort to assist children with autism with the reading curriculum provided through HIPPY.

She has achieved much success during her time at USF. Her impact here at USF, CARD and throughout our 14 counties reaches far and wide; she has so much to be proud of.

Dr. Berkman, if you’re reading this (which I’m sure you are) I along with the CARD and TLA team will miss you so very much. We will do our very best to continue on with your great work and we will strive to make you proud. Enjoy your retirement and the crisp air of the mountains. You deserve it!

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Sincerely,

Adrian & the CARD/TLA team

Guest Blog: Everyone, Meet Erica!

Hi! I’m Erica J. King, a young adult with autism who once lived in Tampa, Florida and my favorite thing to do is write original stories. When I’m not writing, I’m playing video games or thinking about writing. I once owned two hedgehogs named Rosabel and Quilliam Shakespeare. Alas, they both passed away, but they haven’t left my heart.

Melancholy aside, I have attended many different schools and academies. I’ve attended:  Radium Springs Elementary School, Oaktree Elementary School, Merry Acres Middle School, Benito Middle School, Wharton High School, Focus Academy, and lastly the Learning Academy. I moved back to Albany, Georgia to help out with my grandparents. One of which is gone, my grandfather. I’m not going to make my first blog super sad so let’s move on!

I have been working on a story called “Breakthrough”, and no it doesn’t involve some guy falling through thin ice! It’ll be my magnum opus is all you’ll need to know. I will just say one thing about it, it’s about a male writer. I have written fifteen journals for the first book, fifteen journals equal fifteen chapters, and as I’m writing this blog I’m working on the second book and that one will have ten chapters therefore it’ll have ten journals.

Now I’ll talk more about my school experiences, more on the lines of Focus Academy and The Learning Academy. I’ll talk about Merry Acres in a future blog, because that in itself deserves its own blog! Focus Academy was certainly an experience, I met my best friend Francesca Rosa there during summer school. We are still friends today. I learned a lot there about developing characters and layering them.

After doing the high school part, I did a transition program where I did puppy training and volunteer work at a food pantry. I also learned about filling out applications, self-advocacy, and writing checks. Then after I graduated from that, I attended The Learning Academy. I made a lot of friends there and even had an old friend of mine attend too! There I learned a lot about furthering my skills, learning styles, more self-advocacy and attending job fairs. I even learned how to properly act during job interviews.

In conclusion, I hope you readers out there enjoyed this introduction blog and I truly hope that you want to hear more from me, I’ll even share some of my original writings if y’all want! Just let me know below, and enjoy the rest of your day! Thank you so much again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read this! I truly appreciate it 100%, really I do! Ciao for now!

Erica

Past blogs regarding Erica:  TLA Graduate Spotlight on Erica King

 

Autism Owned and Run Businesses

I’ve talked at length before about how getting and maintaining a job is often a struggle for young adults with autism. The numbers of those on the spectrum who are currently employed is not where we want it to be, but thankfully, it appears as if things are on an upward trend. The Learning Academy program at USF works towards that very goal: preparing young adults to transition from dependent living to an independent life, with a career that caters to their interests. In relation to this piece, we’ve even had a Learning Academy graduate go on to start his own sign company, showing that entrepreneurship is not a pipe dream. And that’s exactly what I want to highlight today; I’ve done some searching and I’ve discovered that there are more than a few small business owners out there, succeeding while either run or staffed entirely by those on the spectrum! I hope that by casting a light on some of these companies, it will serve as inspiration to some young entrepreneurs out there that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to.

The first business that jumped out at me was the Miami is Kind bakery, located in (you guessed it) Miami. It was started by a lady named Silvia Planas-Prats, who moved all the way from Barcelona for her son to have a better chance. When she realized the bleak outlook for many kids on the spectrum in regards to future employment, she was inspired to start Miami is Kind. The company “employ[s] bakers, packers, warehouse operators, maintenance crew, customer service reps and dispatchers that have autism or other disabilities,” and is currently thriving, being the subject of several videos and blogs like this one. Just like all of these, I want nothing but the best for Miami is Kind in the future, and I hope to see more businesses like this pop up in the future.

For our next success story, we have to go north of the border to Edmonton, with Anthony at Your Service, a delivery business providing fulfilling work for people with autism and similar disabilities. It was founded in 2012 by Anthony Barrett, along with family and friends. The goal was to give Anthony a meaningful way to engage in the community, but it evolved into so much more. They now have a small team that’s active in the Edmonton area, and have received glowing critical praise for their focus on improving the lives and wellbeing of their employees. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Last but not least, there’s Green Bridge Growers, an aquaponics farm in South Bend, Indiana near Notre Dame. It was started by Chris Tidmarsh, a college graduate with degrees in Chemistry, Environmental Studies, and French, and his family. I particularly appreciate this one, because it really plays into Chris’s strengths and knowledge about organic farming techniques. The company combines his parents’ business savvy with Chris’s expertise, and has created a thriving environment to succeed and work for.

These are just a few examples that I wanted to share, there are plenty more out there if you’re interested. Being on the spectrum myself, and having often doubted my future ambitions, it was inspirational to read some of these stories, and gave me a renewed belief that I will succeed.

TLA Graduate, Erica King, Wins Big in Local Theater Competition

Erica

Erica King

We here at CARD are incredibly proud to announce the recent success of one of our recent TLA graduates, Erica King, at the 4×6 Fest. Erica’s internship was at PowerStories Theatre where she got to write, direct and produce her own play called Splatter. Prior to TLA, Erica attended Focus Academy, where she was able to hone some of these creative skills. Erica’s play at the recent 4×6 competition, titled Time to Get a New Car, won the top honor (beating 7 other plays), and because of this she has qualified to compete in the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival on September 2nd at the Straz Center! Her mother, Beverly King, a consultant here at CARD, could not be more proud, and the outpouring of support here at the office has been incredible. As someone who shares her passion for writing, I wish Erica all the best at the upcoming festival. Speaking of which, I sat down with Erica and asked her a few questions, not only about her play-writing, but also how she cultivated this amazing talent. Here were some of her answers:

Q: Where did your passion for writing come from? Has it been there from the beginning or did it develop later in life?

A: If I remember correctly, I think it developed in first grade. We had to write essays in our notebooks, and I’ve loved it ever since.

 

Q: When did your love for “normal” writing transition into play writing? There’s a pretty big difference between those two things, and I imagine the jump was a difficult one.

A: One day I just started typing up some scripts with actual characters. All of this happened when I was still pretty young, when I just wanted to make some cartoon characters I had created interact with each other. The Timmy Jimmy Power Hour on Nickelodeon was a big inspiration for that.

 

Q: You mentioned before that you attended the Focus Academy. Could you tell me a little more about that experience and how it affected you?

A: It was basically a school I attended twice a week. There were acting classes and other creative stuff. We’d all come together with our inputs and create a piece that had a bit of everyone involved in it. Then we’d rehearse and perform it for all the parents.

 

Q: On a similar note, could you talk a little about your time at the Learning Academy? What did you learn and what role did it play in your play writing career?

A: I learned a lot about interviewing at TLA. You can’t just go to an interview without a resume, you need to have references that aren’t family, and you can’t just be a Gaston and claim that you’re the greatest. As for my internship, I was an usher, and the only thing my internship really taught me was how to compromise on details of my play. I got to read one of my plays which allowed me to meet Brianna Larson, the producer of 4×6.

 

Q: Do you see yourself having a future in play writing, perhaps as a career? Or is this just your current interest that’s more fleeting?

A: I’m interested in both play writing and regular writing. I hope to one day be both an accomplished author and playwright.

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– G. Sosso

ICI’s Evaluation of TLA

“The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University for Massachusetts Boston conducted a one-year evaluation of TLA to explore its essential programmatic elements, and the ways in which the experience influenced student transformation. The evaluation included a thorough observation of program structure, curriculum, daily practices, and history, as well as detailed interviews with TLA staff, students, parents, mentors, and external collaborators. The findings showed that TLA influenced students’ personal growth and transformation, manifesting in a newfound self-confidence. At the end of the program, students described themselves as having greater self-awareness, self-esteem, independence, preparedness, and social competence. The purpose of this brief is to share the lessons learned from TLA to inspire similar programs and other transition professionals striving to optimize transition outcomes for students with ASD.”

Read the entire brief here.

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#LiftingTheLabel

At CARD, our campaign for the 2017 Autism Awareness Month is #LiftingTheLabel. We want to show that there is so much more to these great people than their diagnosis. “Label: n. A classifying phrase or name applied to a person, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive.” Others see an adult or child diagnosed with ASD, and their minds typically go to one of two places; either the classic “anti-social, genius savant” as portrayed in films and TV shows such as Rain Man, Mercury Rising or The Big Bang Theory, or something far less flattering. When terms like “autist” have become insults in certain corners of the internet, now more than ever we need to strive towards removing the individual from the label.

CARD and The Learning Academy have documented many noteworthy cases throughout the years, highlighting the great contributions to society made by people on the autism spectrum. TLA has a page on their website, where several former students, myself included, have written about the success they’ve encountered since attending the class, and it serves as another testament to the fact that we can be just as successful as everyone else if we put our minds to it. Some of us may have to put in a little more effort than usual, but that only makes the eventual payoff all the more sweet.

Many with autism do have certain issues with social interaction, few will deny that. However, that does not mean that we don’t want to, or are incapable of doing so. I have several great friends who mean so much to me, and they never even mention the fact that I have autism because it’s irrelevant to our friendship. For those of us who struggle with being social, we’re not doing so because we want to be alone; quite the opposite in fact. Because it’s difficult for us to reach out, we yearn for companionship perhaps more than most. If you see someone with ASD in the cafeteria, or at the workplace, who’s sitting all alone, try approaching them, and you’ll discover that they can be some of the best, most loyal friends you can have.

#LiftingTheLabel is about reaching inclusiveness in a world that wants to put a label on any and everything. Lumping entire groups of people into a single category, a single stereotype, only ever leads to ignorance and segregation. Our poster for #LiftingTheLabel proudly states, “I am a daughter, sister, athlete, student and friend,” all of which are so much more important than the autism diagnosis. This year for Autism Awareness Month, let’s make sure to start seeing everyone, autism or not, as an individual, rather than a label.

  • G. Sosso

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There and Back Again: The Learning Academy

It always feels special to be able to gain a new perspective on something, and my most recent project is a perfect example of that. For those who may not know, I am a 2015 Learning Academy graduate now employed by CARD as a writer/copy-editor. It was the Learning Academy (TLA) that provided me with the skills I needed to hold down a job and cope with the real world, and now I get to repay them for all that they’ve done for me. I’m initiating a project where I’ll be tracking the progress of two current TLA students, Sean and Lizzy. I will be showcasing where they were at the beginning of the year, and how far they’ve come by the end. But that’s neither here nor there; the real focus of this blog is what a truly visceral experience it was going back into the TLA classroom, not as a wide-eyed, eager student, but as an employee, team member and someone of actual authority.

I caught my first glimpse of the new TLA class a couple months ago, during their orientation (which I remember mine like it was just yesterday!). I could see the looks of uncertainty on most of their faces, as well as a hint of cautious optimism. I can’t speak for them of course, but I can safely assume they were feeling the same torrent of emotions that I was; apprehension, hope, anticipation, joy and courage in the face of this new chapter of their lives. To be honest, when I went up to deliver my speech announcing the aforementioned project, I was very nervous. I had practiced what I wanted to say in my head a million times, and I had no problems speaking publicly last year when I was a student, but this time I had to make a good impression. I didn’t just represent myself and my own progress; I was a reflection of CARD and TLA as a whole. Luckily, I did not choke under the pressure, and received a warm reception.

My second meeting with the new class was far more low-key. In order to get a good feel for how things are going, I stopped by for the last half hour of class, and let me tell you, I can scarcely think of another time when I felt so much nostalgia. It was very tempting for me to raise my hand to answer some of the questions Megan was asking just as I had done last year, but considering I was no longer a student, I knew it would not be proper. It is a testament to Megan’s teaching ability that despite the fact that an entire year had passed, I still clearly remembered the lesson being taught, its real-world applicability, and how we used it to aid us in discovering an internship that we could succeed at.

I look forward to seeing how this year’s TLA class will fare, but from what I’ve seen thus far, I have the utmost confidence in them. And at the end of the year, when they all graduate, I’ll be watching fondly, knowing from personal experience just how special of a moment it truly is.

To learn more about the The Learning Academy at USF visit their website.

  • G. Sosso

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