Thursday, February 3, 2011

Autism Through the Girl Scout Lens

Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood.

Wisconsin's Wausau Daily Herald reports that Girl Scout Kirsten Radant was the top cookie seller in north central Wisconsin last year, despite being diagnosed with autism at age four - a disability so severe she couldn't speak at the time. When first diagnosed, Kirsten's effects from the disability were extreme. In the years since, she has learned to cope and is now able to function at a high level. She still has autism, but it is not immediately apparent in her behavior. Autism made it difficult to sell Girl Scout cookies. Early on, she would accompany Johanna and Amanda when they made their pitches, and they did most of the talking. But as she grew older, she grew more confident to do the sales on her own.

In Texas, The Houston Chronicle reports that Girl Scout Ambassador Brianna Bonnette recently earned the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council Gold Award. To earn the award, Bonnette led musical activities for children with autism. She gave four-hour lessons for five days to children in the Texana Center Behavior Treatment and Training Day Program. Children learned the lessons in three groups according to their needs: early development, intermediate and advanced.The activities included singing songs with motions, playing musical games, making music on drums and pianos, and moving ribbons in rhythm to music. At the end, she donated the musical instruments, music and other materials to the center and created a songbook so the center could continue using music to treat autism.

Kudos to both Kirstin Radant and Brianna Bonnette! Do you have any experience with autism?