Catherine Hogan builds bridges, bringing students with communication skill differences together with students who have typical communication patterns to learn from each other in her Inclusion Teaming program. "And that's unique,'' Hogan says.
Working in teams, the students learn how communication differences are related to brain wiring and how communication differences reflect what information is selected and considered useful. The program is unique in that learning goes both ways.
"I know from my own experience that kids are hurting and parents are always seeking opportunities for their children to interact with typical peers, express their differences, and learn how to advocate for what they need," says Hogan, a psychotherapist who has been a school social worker and clinical instructor at the Yale Child Study Center. "If we can provide students with skill differences an opportunity to be comfortable with who they are and express themselves well with others, then friendships are more possible."
In Hogan's program, students with "communication skill differences" such as autism, Asperger syndrome, Tourette syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder partner with students with "typical communications skills." The students meet once each week for 16 sessions. They exchange ideas and strategies for bridging their differences for 75 minutes each session. Both types of students benefit, Hogan says.
Students with communication skill differences practice social skills learned in other settings. Students with typical skills learn how to work with groups of diverse communicators.
Since April, Inclusion Teaming has recruited students from Staples, Fairfield Prep, Greens Farms Academy and St. Luke's. Her biggest challenge is finding students with communication differences. "They're not identified on public records,'' Hogan says. "You can't go to a school and get a list."
She is networking, mailing and speaking to reach parents of students with communication differences. "It's too important, and the 45-plus students with typical skills are ready to start."
"In the beginning of a group, neither side knows much about the communication difference of the group, such as Asperger syndrome,'' Hogan says. "Over time, they begin to talk about what would work for each other if you were on a team. The students begin to understand what's happening, and they realize that people can better understand each other given this opportunity. Knowledge is the greatest anti-bullying tool."
Justin, a college graduate with Asperger syndrome and group coordinator for Inclusion Teaming, says, "It would really have helped me if Inclusion Teaming was around when I was in school."
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