Workshop kicks off Autism Awareness Month

Jodi Schellenberg
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With autism affecting one in 68 children, the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region is working to educate the public about the disorder.

Vanessa Grier, a speech language pathologist with Autism Services, shared techniques around communicating with children who have autism at a workshop on Tuesday.

PAPHR Autism Services held a workshop on Tuesday, kicking off Autism Awareness Month.

The workshop was based around Empowering Language to help teachers, parents and caregivers learn how to communication with children with autism.

“Kids with autism, one of the diagnostic factors is difficulties with social communication and as a speech language pathologist that is something I work with all the time,” said Vanessa Grier, a speech language pathologist with Autism Services.

She talked about different ways to encourage kids with or without autism who are having difficulties communicating or are just starting to talk.

“It is ways to encourage their language development for them to be able to communicate and get their needs met and also to have fun interacting with others,” Grier said.

It is a valuable topic for parents and caregivers to learn about, she said.

“It is important because if your child isn’t communicating, they can have huge behaviour problems because they are frustrated because they are not getting their needs met, they are not getting what they want and it can be very stressful on the parent and the child because they are no able to communicate what they need,” Grier explained. “This is important for those kids who aren’t talking yet to get them to find a way to communicate so they can reduce the frustration and not have some of those meltdowns that happen when they aren’t able to say what they want or need.”

The workshop focused on strategies that can be used for language development for children who either are not talking yet or only have a few words or phrases.

“We can build on what they are doing already because everyone communicates in some way,” Grier said.

Parents learned how to build on their children’s skills to help them communicate better and more effectively get their point across.

“They may be able to communicate to their parents, because their parents know what they want, they know their kids well, but maybe grandma comes and is taking care of them,” Grier said. “There is a big blow up because grandma doesn’t know what she wanted but if she was able to have some way of communicating then grandma would be able to help her and they would be able to avoid some of those meltdowns.”

One of the techniques Grier was teaching was to use visuals.

“So showing the child things you are wanting them to do or showing them and labeling so they are able to make the connection between what you are saying and what they are seeing and being able to use those words,” Grier said.

“Using books, playing games and singing can be some ways to really be motivating and encouraging language development, help them to learn concepts and words and be able to communicate more effectively,” she added. “It is just some very general strategies that can be super helpful for families.”

The workshop went over well with those gathered, she said.

“We had some great conversation, different people in the audience had suggestions and comments and good questions,” Grier said. “I felt it was a good session this morning.”

Although they put on workshops outside of Autism Awareness Month, Grier said bringing awareness to the disorder is important.

“We do want to bring awareness about autism and know that kids with autism are kids first,” Grier said. “They are unique and wonderful just like every other kid, they have something to share with the world.”

Autism Services puts on a workshop every month at the Victoria Square Education Room. Next month’s, scheduled for May 7, will be about calming techniques.

Organizations: PAPHR Autism Services

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