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International Education Conference Welcomes Selkirk College Autism Program

Developed at Selkirk College, SPECTRUM is an innovative online course offering resources about Autism Spectrum Disorder that is being showcased to a world audience at the Hawaii International Conference on Education happening this January. Instructors Jane Green (left) and Lisa Thiessen (right) are captured here with student David Blackwell. — Submitted photo

WEST KOOTENAY – An innovative online course offering resources about Autism Spectrum Disorder developed at Selkirk College is on its way to a world audience at the Hawaii International Conference on Education taking place this January.

Barely a year after SPECTRUM launched, hundreds of people in the West Kootenay and across the country have taken advantage of the Lifespan Autism Resources & Training according to Selkirk College instructor Jane Green, a driving force behind the project.

“Not only are we excited for the many people in our communities who now have the much-needed basic information and skills to support people with Autism, we are now going to be showcasing our amazing course to educators from around the world,” she says. “We are feeling incredibly pleased with this opportunity to share with more people how Autism doesn’t have to be scary. Neurodivergent thinking just has to be understood.”

Almost four years in the making, with development funding from Columbia Basin Trust and local focus groups informing, SPECTRUM offers perspectives about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) across the lifespan. Its lessons are presented using a story-based multimedia approach with interviews and real-life case example stories that elaborate on the content while bringing information into context. Accessibility for different learning styles was a priority, so course content is bright and engaging on screen using light board technology, strong graphic elements and video content.

SPECTRUM content specialist Michelle Pozin says all community members can benefit from SPECTRUM, but it is invaluable for teachers and education assistants wanting to increase their qualifications and enhance their skills in a school setting. In School Districts 5, 8, 10, 20 and 51, this course meets the Autism Training Requirements.

“Professionals can benefit from this course because of the credential, but more than that, the information and insights provided are invaluable to everyone who is touched by ASD,” says Pozin. “Information through SPECTRUM creates insight, acceptance and inclusion.”

Selkirk College University Arts & Sciences alumnus David Blackwell is one of several people on the spectrum who are taking this online course. He feels the course content is an accurate representation of his lived experience with ASD.

“SPECTRUM offers an amazing perspective exposing people to a life unlike their own,” he says. “I don’t act according to a normal social script. I make flubs. I would like others to understand why this is and suspend judgement. I believe the course could contribute to the promotion of inclusivity in post-secondary education, making the social environments of colleges and universities more accessible to students, staff, and faculty on the spectrum than they have historically been.”

This year’s Hawaii International Conference on Education is the 17th annual event where academics and professionals from education and related fields from all over the world come together to learn from each other. It’s anticipated there will be more than 1,300 presenters from more than 35 countries when it opens on January 5.

SPECTRUM will be part of a session of poster presentations in which the Selkirk College team can share about the course and their experience one-to-one with other industry professionals. Instructor Lisa Thiessen says she looks forward to the conversations about the incredible work coming out of the small rural college.

“We have come very far in developing this incredibly important course that can now be taken by anyone around the world,” she says.

In addition to presenting on SPECTRUM, Education Assistant & Community Support Worker Program (EACSW) instructors Green and Thiessen will share about a recent lesson that helped a group of Selkirk College students understand neurodivergent thinking and living with a disability.

EACSW students read author Lorna Schultz Nicholson One-2-One series that includes four books featuring teens with ASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome and Brain Injury.  The books Fragile Bones, A Time to Run, Born With and Bent Not Broken show how people can deal with situations in entirely different ways.

After completing their novel studies, students presented projects to the author who provided personal feedback to each individual. Nicholson has been honoured with many awards for her writing which also includes the Amazing Hockey Stories series. The author is passionate about sports and her husband Bob Nicholson is the former Hockey Canada president.

“It was a pleasure to welcome Lorna to Selkirk College,” says Green. “She had such an enthusiasm for her craft and each student’s success mattered to her. She took the time to address each of them individually which motivates them further in their studies.”

To enrol in SPECTRUM at Selkirk College, go to www.selkirk.ca/SPECTRUM. Learn more about EACSW at www.selkirk.ca/eacsw.