Thursday, January 10, 2008

World of Good, Treehouse Style

Welcome to another World of Good (WOG) entry here at The Scratching Post! Yes, I know it's a Thursday and we normally do these on Wednesday, but life's been a bit crazy (and fun!) lately, so we've missed a bunch of WOG Wednesdays and I just wanted to get another one out there.

This week we highlight the work of Treehouse. Treehouse is UK-based organization that was started by parents of children with autism and exists "to transform through education the lives of children with autism and the lives of their families." For those who aren't quite sure what autism is, here's a very general description of the problem.
Autism causes kids to experience the world differently from the way most other kids do. It's hard for kids with autism to talk with other people and express themselves using words. Kids who have autism usually keep to themselves and many can't communicate without special help.

They also may react to what's going on around them in unusual ways. Normal sounds may really bother someone with autism — so much so that the person covers his or her ears. Being touched, even in a gentle way, may feel uncomfortable.

Kids with autism often can't make connections that other kids make easily. For example, when someone smiles, you know the smiling person is happy or being friendly. But a kid with autism may have trouble connecting that smile with the person's happy feelings.
I can't imagine what life like a parent of an autistic child must be like. One of my greatest joys is my relationships with my children and they way they react to me with love and happiness. To remove that from my life would be to remove a good deal of the sunshine. Treehouse works to give some of that sunshine back by educating both the parents of autistic children and the children themselves. Parenting an autistic child is tough. Doing it without a resource like Treehouse would be much, much harder.

Here, Treehouse volunteers teach the children hockey cross-checking. The photographer ended up knocked out cold.

Treehouse helps the children get out and participate in normal, daily activities.

TreeHouse children and staff continue to take advantage of the many facilities that are on their doorstep in the local community and in central London. All children go on trips to Muswell Hill, where they are able to visit the local library, have a drink or something to eat in a local café and go shopping in the local supermarket. Children also take advantage of the local amenities, going swimming once a week at the local pool. Horse riding is to become a regular feature on the weekly timetable. One class visited the ice skating rink at Alexandra Palace, where the children and staff enjoyed themselves learning to ice skate. Visits to local shopping centres are also a feature of our pupils’ learning...The purpose of such trips is to enable the children to become more used to being in the community, to practise daily-life activities such as shopping.

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner, visited Treehouse recently. Apparently his jokes weren't as funny as he thought they were.

Treehouse's newsletters are filled with little stories of success. In one, an autistic boy named Michael is being taught basic social skills.
Michael sits at the table and orders a cup of tea and a slice of toast in a Muswell Hill café. This may not sound like much, but for Michael, who is non-verbal, this is an enormous achievement. Teaching Michael this skill has been very positive for his family. Michael is now able to go to a restaurant, sit with the rest of the family and order his own food.
When I read this, I tried to imagine the patient love that the volunteers of Treehouse gave to Michael as they worked him through this process. They weren't teaching biochemistry to genius pupils, they were helping a young boy learn essential social graces. There was no glamor or fame to the task, only an abiding love for the child. Now imagine that event repeated hundreds or thousands of time and you begin to get a sense of what Treehouse does. Now that's a World of Good.

For more WOGs, a description of why we WOG and an opportunity to join the WOG Squad, see this post.

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