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Autism & Art: Bloch & Boonstra Teach Art Center Staff About Students With Autism

September 8, 2015

photo of Kristen Bloch & Kate Boonstra
Kristen Bloch and Kate Boonstra

The Des Moines Art Center sought out the expertise of Heartland AEA in anticipation of a new education program they will offer this fall. “Art Spectrums” is beginning this month and will serve children ages 5-10 years old with autism and their families.

Jill Featherstone, Director of Education at the Art Center, sought training for the docents, security staff, volunteers and art teachers who will be working with the students. Kristen Bloch (School Psychologist/AM), of the Challenging Behavior and Autism Team, and Kate Boonstra (Parent Coordinator/JO), of the Parent & Educator Connection, used their agency-granted volunteer time to present an overview of autism and ideas for successful inclusion of families.

Bloch explained the characteristics that children with autism display in communication, social interaction and behaviors and interests. Through video clips and examples from her experience, she helped museum staff understand that autism is a spectrum disorder and gave them prevention strategies for behavior. Along with teaching the Art Center staff about supports like visual schedules and social narratives, Bloch assisted in preparing materials for use in the program as well.

Since Art Spectrums is a program for families to attend together, Boonstra provided ideas for inclusion of parents and siblings. By illustrating what the families of children with autism may be going through, she helped set the stage for the “judgment-free zone” that the Art Center is hoping to create for families.

“I had the opportunity to meet Kate Boonstra and Kristen Bloch at what I thought may be a nuts and bolts consultation, but that meeting exceeded my expectations and something much richer occurred—a collaboration began,” Featherstone said. “Being experts in working with students with autism, Kristen and Kate’s practical experience and professional guidance helped my colleague Des Hansen and I develop our burgeoning program. The first of two training sessions were well-researched, thorough and compassionate. In addition to presenting us with the content we needed to learn, Kate and Kristen demonstrated their investment in serving all children, no matter through the schools or cultural organizations, by choosing the words “us and we” rather than “you and them.”

“It's exciting that the Art Center is offering this chance for children and their families to experience the arts together,” Boonstra said. “I appreciated the opportunity to help their staff view children’s behavior through a compassionate lens.”

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