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Connection Amid Isolation



 

How can we leverage digital tools to foster

connection and resilience in children

with Autism during the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

Graphic by Raag Venkat
Autism Awareness During COVID-19

. . .

WATCH

An introductory video written and produced by

children with Autism

 

. . .

LEARN

Read the facts about Autism Spectrum Disorder

 

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? 

There is no one type of Autism, but many. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. The disorder is most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. And because Autism is a spectrum disorder, each person has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.

 

What are the symptoms?

Hyperactivity

Delayed Speech Impairment

Prefer to Play or Spend Time Alone

Problems With Sleep

Impaired Social Skills

Rejecting Human Connection

 

What are the latest

statistics of ASD?

 

 

How has social distancing and quarantine put into effect

during the COVID-19 outbreak affected children with ASD?

 

Graphic by Raag Venkat

April is Autism Awareness Month and parents of children with an ASD are facing challenges with managing behavior, social skills, and education, due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are already at risk for rejecting human connection and impaired social skills, and the quarantine makes it several times easier for these children to lock themselves away from contact.

During the COVID-19 crisis, a family’s challenges are unique; however, they are not insurmountable. 

There are steps that families can take to dramatically improve the connection and resilience in their children with Autism while modern medicine is not avaliable. Rather than using treatments like antipsychotics or using a medical model type approach, families can apply a positive psychological model through exposure therapy to enhance purpose and connection in their children. 

. . .

INTERACT

Partake in an interactive experience

 

Photo illustration by Raag Venkat

Click the button below and it will redirect you to my quiz. After you are finished, click the back arrow (←) and the presentation will continue where you left off. There are six questions, and the quiz should take you about two minutes. Good luck and see you soon!

 

. . .

 ONLINE WORKSHOP

A two-pronged plan

My method to help build connection and resilience in children with Autism is by creating a community of both diverse and alike learners. The online workshop will use a software such as Zoom Video Communications to host meetings. 

I plan to make an online workshop for children with Autism as a type of exposure therapy that plunges kids into an engaging and safe space. Children with not only be allowed to express feelings and ask questions about the COVID-19 crisis, but they will also be met with targeted resilience-building activities that get their energy flowing!

 

Step One: Fitness Learning

  • Stretches
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Ball Skills/Control
  • Jump Roping
  • Physical Challenges

 

Studies have shown that physical activities greatly enhances the road to resilience, according to the American Psychological Association. 

The goal of fitness learning is to encourage children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to step out of their comfort zone and learn new skills. With COVID-19 and quarantine looming, the urge to “shut down” has risen. Fitness serves as a type of exposure therapy to combat this notion. 

Exercise affects any brain in many ways.

It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the release of hormones which provide an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells. One of these neurotrasmitters is dopamine. 

For the autistic mind, fitness learning also promotes brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in cortical areas of the brain. Neuroscientific and psychological research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain, which helps create new connections. These techniques directly oppose the urge of many children with Autism during the crisis, and expose these children to both inner and outer connection. 

Step Two: Community Conversations

  • Introductions
  • Pair and Share
  • Meet New People
  • Show And/Or Tell
  • “COVID” Conversations
  • Origami – Art with Steps

Graphic by Raag Venkat

 

Community conversations sparks connection and resilience in children with Autism by creating a safe environment during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Because some children with Autism present as nonverbal, community conversations do not simply include words. Actions are the most important. The space is open and inclusive – all are welcome! With this idea in mind, kids with Autism learn about teamwork, how to connect with others, and what actions/words feel good to hear or experience – and which don’t feel great to hear or experience. 

Confidence and resilience gradually build as kids move through the practice and realize that they’re not being judged – and that their opinions are both heard and matter. Activities like Origami, which are conducted in a series of steps, foster a “routine” like element in the minds of children with Autism. These routines are incredibly important to embed in everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

. . .

ACT

Action steps and support for families

 

How do you explain COVID-19?

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may be wondering: Why is everything different? Why am I feeling so scared? What do I do? 

Families can take several measures to provide reassurance to their children and to let children with ASD know you’re working hard to keep your family healthy. 

 

Verbal Children:

Finding out what they already know is important to deciding what to share:

  • Have you noticed anything different in our lives?
  • Do you know what is happening?
  • Do you know what the coronavirus is?
  • What questions do you have about the situation?

 

Nonverbal Children:

It is best to simply explain the changes and what they are experiencing right away, either through actions or words. While some children with ASD can comprehend language, others have trouble – for example, visual images may imporve understanding more than words. Convey a message in the way your child interprets best.

 

How do you embrace the changes due to COVID-19?

Working with your child to embrace new routines and activities is an important step to coping with COVID-19. Using schedules or charts to emphasize steps helps your child visualize that even through change, there are healthy habits to practice no matter what. 

Here are some suggestions to embrace change:

  • Setting up regular video chats with friends or family. It’s crucial to keep social connections alive despite physical separation. 
  • Go outside at least once a day (while social-distancing)!
  • Providing alternatives. Change might feel less daunting if we are still given choices during our time in quarantine. 

. . .

APPLY

Closing statements by Raag Venkat highlighting 

motivation and desire

 


 

I would like to sincerely thank you for interacting with my Catalyst Conference Project. Now, I would like to call on you to take the ideas you have learned to new heights. Think about some of these prompting questions below, and then leave me a video underscoring your thoughts on my Flipgrid:

  • Do you have a personal experience with Autism? What about ASD have you seen, heard, or explored in your community?
  • How can you educate your community about ASD during the COVID-19 crisis? 
  • Where are some places you can interact or volunteer with children with ASD after quarantine?
  • What other methods of connection can families use?

 

 

Additionally, please feel free to comment with any questions, comments, or suggestions. This will give me the opportunity to continue developing my ideas and spark real change in my own community.

Currently, I volunteer for an organization called ACEing Autism in my community – I am hoping to bring some of my research and ideas back when it hopefully starts up in Fall 2020. 

I encourage everyone to find a chapter of ACEing Autism near them and try volunteering for this moving and heartwarming organization – some of my happiest moments have been while helping out on the courts. 

 

Our mission is to connect children with autism through unique tennis programs, and to develop and advance proven methods to positively impact the children, families and communities we serve.

– ACEing Autism

 

Finally, attached is my Works Cited. Again, thank you and…

Share this project
COMMENTS: 43
  1. April 24, 2020 by Scott Wang

    whoaaaa this project is really really cool

  2. April 24, 2020 by Laya

    Well done! I learned so much about Autism and the effects of COVID-19 on autistic children. I really want to get involved with Aceing Autism! There is a program near me. I also would love to take a GOA course. Can you point me to the website! Awesome work.

    • April 25, 2020 by Raag Venkat

      Thanks so much, Laya. I think you commented twice haha! I am really glad that you want to get involved with ACEing Autism and GOA (Global Online Academy). The website is http://www.globalonlineacademy.org. Some of the most interesting and thought-provoking classes I have taken throughout my high school career have been through GOA in courses such as Medical Problem Solving and Positive Psychology. I know you attend Greenhill so, fortunately, you are eligible to take these classes. Good luck!

  3. April 24, 2020 by Chancey

    This is so cool! I have a family member who is a graphic designer for an ice cream shop that employs people with special needs, which made this super interesting to read about. Great job Raag!

    • April 25, 2020 by Raag Venkat

      Hey Chancey, I really appreciate your remarks! I love graphic design and I use an app called “Procreate” on iPad. I make graphics for personal enjoyment and for my school’s newspaper, The Evergreen. Check out some of our publications at https://issuu.com/ghevergreen. I thought it would super fun to bring my hobby to my Catalyst Conference project. What ice cream shop does your family member work for?

  4. April 24, 2020 by Ashton

    This is great that you are reaching out to help the ASD community. Really cool!!

  5. April 24, 2020 by Laya

    Great work! I learned so much about the effects of COVID on children with autism. I now feel more informed and educated. I think I will sign up for Aceing Autism as there is a program near me. Also, I would love to get involved with GOA. Can you point me in the right direction? Awesome job.

  6. April 24, 2020 by Laura Smith

    Great initiative especially during these difficult times of quarantine and shelter in place. I like the community conversation piece. As a mom of a non verbal autistic kid, I know how difficult social skills can be and if you can help these children online by having a conversation with them, that would be super helpful. Keep up the good work.

    • April 25, 2020 by Raag Venkat

      This really means a lot coming from a mother with an autistic child, and I am so glad that you enjoyed viewing my project. I will definitely continue my work after the conference and use my ideas to make an impact on my community including the organization I volunteer at. Thank you, again!

  7. April 24, 2020 by Su karthik

    Awesome!

  8. April 24, 2020 by Henry Adams

    Great idea and presentation.

  9. April 24, 2020 by Molly

    Yes! Raising ASD Awareness!

  10. April 24, 2020 by Molly Fagelman

    this was so interesting to read and learn about!

  11. April 24, 2020 by Sonali Notani

    What a great presentation! I learned a lot!

  12. April 24, 2020 by Sola

    Very interesting! I’m so proud!

  13. April 24, 2020 by Emily

    Hi Raag, your project was, to say the least, incredible!! I loved how you incorporated positive models into a neurobiological disease. As a positive psychology alumni, I appreciate your in depth review of concepts and studies. Your UCLA research was quite impressive. I would recommend extending workshops to introduce play therapy with more arts and crafts. I loved interacting with your project and I think it can make a difference worldwide.

    • April 25, 2020 by Raag Venkat

      I appreciate your kind feedback and ideas! Introducing and strengthing the concepts of “play therapy” could prove effective for my project. In fact, my teacher Ms. Gehman also told me she learned how games are essential to keeping children with autism engaged online from a friend who is a therapist. I will work on developing my ideas.

  14. April 24, 2020 by Sammy

    I really appreciated your efforts to better the autism community during these tough times. I liked interacting with your project and learned some new stuff from your google forms activity. Also, I will be checking out ACEing Autism to get involved. What is the age requirement for getting involved?

    • April 26, 2020 by Raag Venkat

      I am so glad you are interested in getting involved in ACEing Autism! Programs like these are so helpful to the ASD community because they foster connection through physical activity. ACEing Autism specifically is a tennis-based program, but you don’t need to know how to play in order volunteer! As for your question, I don’t know the exact age requirement, but I have come across ten-year-olds volunteering with their parents at the program. I do know that a background check is necessary for aspiring volunteers over 18. Check out more at https://aceingautism.org/volunteers/

  15. April 24, 2020 by Kathy Yan

    This is amazing!!

  16. April 24, 2020 by Amber

    Love this presentation! Great work!!

  17. April 24, 2020 by Amber

    Loved this presentation Raag!!

  18. April 24, 2020 by veda.dhulipalla

    Not only are your hand-made graphics superb, but your research shows such a profound understanding of the struggles that Autism brings to children in a global pandemic. I personally loved how you added a section for support for families. Even though this presentation is tailored to the families, it brings recognition and understanding to everyone worldwide about the disorder during Autism Awareness month! I definitely am curious about this “exposure therapy” model. I truly hope you can bring your project to life someday.

  19. April 24, 2020 by William Coben

    I love your concept and the crisp organization and design of this project. Your artistic skills deserve recognition. I recommend reaching out to communities of people with mental or neurological disorders. I think your concepts of connection and resilience could be expanded to include so many more marginalized groups. YAS QUEEN!

  20. April 24, 2020 by Sree

    Sree Kolli name
    I didn’t really know the struggle that some families are facing during coronavirus until I interacted with this project. It really puts my life into perspective and makes me think about how fortunate I am. I have to say that your art is SOOO good and I really want to know how you did it. Great job, raag!

  21. April 24, 2020 by Theo Kokonas

    Hey Raag,

    I loved your presentation–in a time that’s difficult for everyone, it’s hard to remember that the COVID outbreak has hit others even harder, and your ability to identify the autistic community as at-need and so clearly and concisely explain why was informative and inspiring. I was also really inspired by your complete view and integration of the spectrum of autism into your action plan–having different action plans for verbal and nonverbal children and recognizing that the entire autistic community could never be serviced by only one method was smart and compassionate. Just a great presentation, bravo!

    • April 26, 2020 by Raag Venkat

      Thank you, Theo! I thought it was really important to include different models and plans of action because Autism is indeed a spectrum. I’m so glad you recognized this because one of my goals was to bring awareness to the fluidity and range of the disorder.

  22. April 24, 2020 by Dhira

    This is a great initiative . Good Job!

  23. April 24, 2020 by Paul subramanian

    Hi Raag

    Unique concept and good presentation.keep it up. Looking forward to more info on the same subject.

  24. April 24, 2020 by Anagha Gouru

    Very well written and a great initiative, Raag! Keep up the amazing work

  25. April 24, 2020 by Abbi

    This is an amazing project, Raag! I especially like the order in which you present the information. This is a very important topic, and I’m glad you are raising awareness. Well done!

  26. April 24, 2020 by Abbi

    Hi Raag, your project is amazing! I love the layout and design of the project. The layout aids in making the project even more informative. I love that you are bringing awareness to the topic of autism. Well done!

  27. April 24, 2020 by Grace Kiang

    Awesome project, Raag! This is stellar work – what an fabulous resource you have created. I’m delighted that you have been able to merge your interest areas in life.

    • April 24, 2020 by Anika

      Hi Raag, I love your presentation! I learned a lot about Autism. Keep up the great work and I would love to see more about this.

    • April 25, 2020 by Raag Venkat

      Thank you so much, Ms. Kiang! As my GOA site-director, I really appreciate your support and kindness. Taking positive psychology as a junior was such an important step for my well-being and my career goals, and I couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you for giving me and so many other students at Greenhill the opportunity to expand their learning and do important work.

  28. April 24, 2020 by Paige

    WOW Raag! I absolutely loved this- you went above and beyond! I think you hit all the important points of what autistic people need. I hope this comes to fruition, because I think this could be really helpful!

  29. April 25, 2020 by Morgan Hurst

    Great job Raag! Your thoughts and data were so insightful and helped me learn a lot. The design of your project made it extremely easy to follow. You did a beautiful job articulating the concept of connection. I am so proud to call you my friend.

  30. April 25, 2020 by Elana

    WOW! This project really is a detailed one, I really love your inclusion of bright and engaging images into your project, really makes it a fun project to look at. I can clearly see how much thought and effort you put into this, it is extremely informative and I understand so much more now!

  31. April 26, 2020 by Jothi

    Raag!! Amazing job this looks so good! You can tell you put a lot of effort into this and it definitely payed off! I love the detail and the great graphics! This is a great initiative and It’s awesome that you’re involved in it!! Keep up the good work!!

  32. April 26, 2020 by Sumana

    This project is so cool! You have some really great information and graphics. You also organized this very well and made it easy to follow. I love that you were able to inform your viewers about Autism in general, but also the effect of the COVID outbreak on people with Autism. This is an awesome project and I know it will raise awareness towards this issue. Great job!!

  33. April 26, 2020 by Jason Yaffe

    Raag, Although I have yet to teach you in a class at Greenhill, I have appreciated the insight into you as a student through this impressive work for the GOA catalyst conference! Your approach — identifying and educating viewers about autism, then exploring the impact of the global pandemic on those with autism, before proposing some creative, solution based steps — is quite comprehensive and speaks to your depth of understanding. Overall, it’s a reminder about how individuals with certain needs and those in different contexts are being impacted by COVID 19. Thank you for all of the care and work put into this! Yours, Mr. Yaffe

  34. April 26, 2020 by Niyati

    This is an amazing presentation! Raag, I was wondering if there was a way that I could get involved in this process with you even though I live in New Orleans.

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