This featured blog was written by Chris Smith, Program Manager of ASD Educational Services at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Academy.
On Wednesday, May 11th, the ASD program at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Academy attended a field trip to Family Bowlaway in Butler. The outing allowed the students to put into practice the social skills they’ve been working hard on (such as turn-taking, conversation skills, friendship, transitioning, and much more) all year long in a fun community setting. This particular outing was special for a variety of reasons.
This trip was a big success in that every student in the hallway was able to go; in past outings, students may at times have had to stay back due to escalated behaviors, having incident reports, or otherwise presenting safety concerns. Because every student earned to go on the trip, that meant every staff could go share in the success, which made it that much more enjoyable. To staff and students it felt like a nice way to celebrate the hard work they put in together to get there.
This trip allowed several students to overcome some personal barriers. Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder sometimes struggle with changes in day to day routines, and often prefer very rigid and routine schedules. So a field trip can certainly cause some non-preferred changes and anxiety! However, students who were initially hesitant to get on a different bus at a different time of day overcame their hesitation and transitioned right onto the bus with a little encouragement, and even participated in bowling and conversation with their peers. One student received lots of encouragement and support from a peer in his classroom which made all the difference to him.
This trip provided some leadership opportunities for some of our graduating seniors, who acted (without being told to do so) as mentors for some of the younger students more affected by their diagnoses. Whether it was just lending a helping hand to hold on to or modeling some sweet bowling skills, these students helped those younger children stay included and smiling throughout. It was a fantastic opportunity for the development of interpersonal relationships between students in our program. I had the good fortune to witness a student who was initially isolating and avoidant eventually ask to join a bowling lane, and before long she was talking, smiling and laughing with peers. One peer in particular expressed that he was glad to have interacted with her, and his conversations with this peer included encouragement, jokes, and kind language. It was like watching one of Miss Angela’s social skills lessons unfold before my eyes.
The field trip was also a wonderful chance for staff to demonstrate their commitment to School as a Society, one of the four pillars upon which St. Stephen’s operates. Staff and students truly functioned as a ‘neighborhood’, as evidenced by teachers working together to distribute food and drinks, identifying safe areas within the bowling alley for students who needed breaks, and assisting students outside of their classroom rosters. Teachers were well aware of each other’s unique student needs and concerns proactively. Everyone looked out for each other, and it was clear that they truly enjoyed doing so.
But the benefits of this outing did not end when we unlaced our bowling shoes and headed back to the school. On the contrary, I just heard about a student whose parents are adding bowling to their list of family outings following the field trip. They had never gone bowling as a family previously. It was great to hear that our work at St. Stephen’s is expanding the social circles of the families of the students we serve!
Overall, it was great to see this trip come together and get to be a part of it. Thanks to the detailed planning of Miss Michele and the collaboration of all the teachers and teaching assistants, in addition to the participation and enthusiasm of the students, the trip was a huge success. Everyone involved made lasting memories. The students got to practice skills and build relationships in a way that will hopefully continue to enrich their lives. I look forward to seeing what other fun and creative opportunities we can put together for these children in the future!