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Autism and Culture: Australian Schools, Yoga Studios, and Awesome Kids

With the Internet more prevalent than ever and smart phones more ubiquitous than desktop computers, more of those special moments in our lives are being captured than ever before. This week we take a look at one of those special moments while profiling a Jersey teen who raised over $10k for autism, cover Australia’s “agile” approach to autism, and look at what yoga studios can do for those with autism.

Starting our round-up down under, the Australian Educational Needs Analysis report has identified social and emotional needs as the top priorities for teaching children with autism. As autism rates have been on the rise for the past decade, the report indicated a high rate of exclusion with social and academic needs not often understood or supported.

Taking place over a two-year period, 1,500 individuals were surveyed, including students, teachers, and school staff members. Led by Dr Beth Saggers and Professor Suzanne Carrington, the research found teachers needed more support to provide inclusive classrooms.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with autistic children is not effective,” Professor Carrington said. “Autism is just one area of diversity and the research demonstrated the need for schools to be flexible and agile to children’s needs and often other students also benefit.”

Moving from the classroom to the yoga studio, the Autism Society of Berks County has begun offering special classes for children with autism and the classes are earning five-star reviews. In explains what yoga helps her child with, mother Stephanie Smock said, “Yoga teaches him to be aware of his body.” Smock and her son both attend the yoga class once a week and says he is able to apply what he learns in class to get him through the day-to-day challenges. “Sometimes, when he’s stressed or frustrated with simple tasks, I can hear him saying, calm down, breath, I am calm, breath,'” she recalled.

The class is overseen by instructor Megan O’Malley who has been teaching a special autism-only class for over a year now. “Yoga is not about excluding anyone, so every person that comes in here–they are where they are and it’s as simple as that,” she said. While many of her students have sensory and anxiety issues, she says that the classes teach them a very practical way to handle stress. “So what yoga does, is it gives them an opportunity to kind of chill out, lengthen out, release their muscles, stretch them out, and try to dissipate some of the stress that they might have accumulated through the day,” she said.

Up next, while Autism Awareness Month is now in the rear view mirror, those who spent the month raising funds are now getting to make their donations. One such individual is 14 year-old Mallory Banks who just donated a check for $10,500 to Autism New Jersey in the name of her brother, Ethan, who has autism. Mallory, with the assistance of her parents, Gina and Jeff Banks, friends and volunteers, has raised more than $20,000 in recent years, beginning with bake sales and culminating in the music festival April 16. The event attracted hundreds of people and generated $7,880 on site in donations and raffles. An additional $2,620 was raised online.

Finally, in our viral video of the week, a 2-year old boy named Jackson Coley was recently caught on video meeting Snow White at Disney World, and fell in love while his mom recorded the charming moment. For the family, his reaction was especially remarkable because outside of his family, he rarely makes eye contact or engages with other people. As his mother Amanda put it, “For us to see that type of reaction with someone like Snow White – he’s never seen the movie before, he’s never seen anything about Snow White before – so for us to see that kind of reaction is huge.” You can see Jackson’s reaction for yourself here.