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Heart of Brooklyn transcript 2013

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Building Strong Community Networks (BSCN) is a two-year action research project aimed at diagnosing and responding creatively to community needs through collaboration. BSCN is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The six Heart of Brooklyn (HOB) cultural institutions are developing new methods of listening to, and learning about, the Brooklyn community, and are designing a process for conceiving and implementing collaborative programs that address community needs.

Serving children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities, as well as autism spectrum disorder, is a shared priority among the HOB institutions. This panel and the discussion it generates will guide the institutions in understanding how to better serve the community. This conversation will shape how we imagine the future, as well as improve current programming.

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  • Geoffrey DeBery, Eden II Programs
  • Aaron Feinstein, ActionPlay
  • Alicia Kenshaw, GallopNYC
  • Elaine Stillerman, parent and founder of Big Apple Oranges
  • Cindy VandenBosch, Museum Access Consortium

Moderated by Marcos Stafne, PhD

[Screen fades to room with camera focused on a long table with five panelists. Attendees can be seen on the left and ride sides of the screen sitting at tables positioned perpendicular to the two ends of the panelists' tables.]

Representative from Heart of Brooklyn:
We are in the process now of re-envisioning Heart of Brooklyn, what we do and how we do it. To that end, we have embarked on a two-year IMLS funded grant, Building Strong Community Networks.

Cindy: I'm Cindy VandenBosch and I'm co-chair of the Museum Access Consortium, which is mostly a volunteer-based association that was started by access professionals within museums. And so, it started out in the 90's as that…

Geoffrey: My name is Geoff DeBery. I'm a clinician for Eden II Programs. Eden II Programs is located in Staten Island and what we do is we serve the autism community.

Aaron: I am Aaron Feinstein. I'm Director of the Miracle Project New York and Executive Director of ActionPlay.

Alicia: I'm Alicia Kershaw. I'm with GallopNYC. And I brought lots of brochures and flyers if anybody wants more information. I picked out an apple because we work with horses. [Laughter through room] and we have children and adults with disabilities and we teach them how to ride horses.

Elaine: My name is Elaine Stillerman and am I the only person here with a child with special needs? [silence] So, I'm representing the parents I guess… I'm here to represent, I guess, not only my son but the community at-large. So thank you.

Text on screen [in white letters against back background]: What should we know about this audience?

Elaine: …On the spectrum is a child... first and foremost. They have special ways of experiencing the world and communicating their needs, or not. They are learners, who some of them are visual learners, some of them are auditory learners, some of them are kinesthetic learners, they have to touch things… To spend our money at your venues because if you can provide for us–what we need–we're there. There's a tremendous need for us–our children–to have regular childhood experiences in a safe, educational environment.

Text on screen [white letters against black background]: What value does this audience get from visiting our institutions? [the following question appears in bold white letters against black background underneath the first question] How can we improve these visits?

Geoff: What we find, all the families we work with, one thing that's consistent from very early ages to very old ages. Families want activities to do, they want places to go, in the same way that any family wants to be able to go on outings with their children and have activities to do with their children. It keeps their children busy for their own convenience as well. Parents with children with autism want that as well, but their options are somewhat limited.

Alicia: I think you see actually two different threads in families and they often go and weave in and out. Some families are very much interested in inclusion and some families are very much interested in having their own room. And then, as you said, the parent who felt her child was included probably wanted to use the room but then also wanted to have times when the child was part of a bigger…

Elaine: If it's possible…

Alicia: If it's possible. And so it is a challenge to try to figure out which one you're going to do where.

Cindy: We all want to provide an inclusive environment but something that we've also encountered with some parents, like you said, is that they want to get their kids or family members out into an environment and have an experience and they don't, they're not necessarily seeking comfort per se. I've also encountered that with some teachers where they're wanting to introduce their students to a new environment and kind of see how that goes. You were saying sometimes it is about respite and it's about recreation when you go out to a site. So, sometimes museum educators have an educational objective or goal for a structured program, but it's ok to throw that out the window. I mean not throw it out the window completely, but it's ok to have the program really be about bonding and connecting and having a multi-sensory experience versus sticking to your structured plan because that, more than likely, may not work.


Marcos: I'm going to bring it back. This is great that you talked about theater and, Aaron, your experience with theater and social experiences. Can you talk about what you see when you have your group together working over a long period of time?

Aaron: Sure

Marcos: The types of social experiences they're having, the benefits of the social experiences they're having.

Aaron: Sure, well I mean, I think there's this overwhelming myth out there that children with autism are not social and maybe don't have a desire to be social. I think that's the place where a lot of these conversations have to start which is that children with autism are seeking out social experiences, but a lot of time it's very difficult for them and they need to be in a place where they are accepted and encouraged. So, it's really interesting that we've been talking so much about exclusion, not exclusion, I'm sorry, inclusion-based programs versus things that are more catered to a specific audience. I think what's really fascinating about that is that so many programs that are developed are wonderful and they are really great in providing experiences for children with autism and their families and welcoming them. And I think that's one part of it. But you also have to pull away for a second and say the idea as an institution is to welcome families and to provide a welcoming environment. That's ultimately the bigger picture of that and I think that's something we're all striving to do.

Geoff: Autism is a spectrum disorder and we have this mantra for people who work with people who have autism. If you know one person with autism, then that means you know one person with autism.


Geoff: And Elaine will share her experience with her side of it…

Aaron: A lot of times, as we all know, we're going to set off the children that we're with. [chuckles in the room] And so, I think it's creating security. It's both. It's not just creating security for the individual and child, but it's also giving that security to the parents. So, it's like what came first, the chicken or the egg sort of question. The question is: how do these experiences provoke anxiety and how do you quell that anxiety?

Geoff: What I find is that people with autism, change is difficult. Things that are unexpected are different. People with autism do best with routine and predictability. So going to a cultural institution for the first time is not any different than going to a mall for the first time.

Cindy: Doing sensitivity trainings with frontline staff is so important, and especially security guards because you think about visually the connection between security guards and police officers. There could be anxiety specifically around security guards.

Alicia: Try and create a safe comfortable environment for the child and the parent. Try and create a calm opportunity for the child to have a sense of achievement in a low stress way. But very important to have success at that. And success to us can be a very small step, but when a child, I mean our kids are the same as every other kid except that they are on the spectrum. So they want to do well and they know when they're doing well and they want to connect, they totally want to connect, and be social. So if you can give them an opportunity, which we can, to do well, now you've built in a desire to do more and that's when it starts to spread out into the rest of their lives.

Aaron: And all of you have things that could be very important to this community. So, and then on top of that, I think it's how you define success in that as well and how you think about success and the outcomes. What does the success look like? How are these experiences going to translate to your donor base? How are these experiences going to translate to your families? What are you looking to provide for the children, too? It's something we all need to think about. To me, a lot of it, for instance, with the Brooklyn Museum, it was enjoyment in the experience, enjoyment in the art creation, enjoyment in getting your fingers dirty and playing with different materials. That to me is exciting. But it's also trying to find out quantitative ways of translating that as well.

Alicia: Can I just jump in with one thought? One thing I've been thinking about as a service provider so-to-speak is and it's just coming up here constantly and maybe you guys have all figured it out, but there's a real big difference between an individual coming in and a group coming in. And we see that at Gallop. We work with school groups in the mornings, weekday mornings, and then individual riders on weekday afternoons and weekends.

Text on screen [white text on black background]: What is the one message you hope we take away from today's session?

Cindy: I think one of the biggest steps you can take is to form partnerships with service providers or organizations…

Geoff: [nodding his head] Yes.

Cindy: Like, for example, if you're targeting families…

Elaine: You know, so you have to be fluid, you've got to be creative, but you have to be trained.

Aaron: Yeah, acceptance is great. We want to encourage acceptance but we also want to encourage advocacy. He always see advocacy as the last step. If we can all advocate for this community, I think that has a lot of meaning in changing the impressions of what this community can offer.

Text on screen [white text on black background]:
Many thanks to our Expert Panelists!

With this feedback in mind, the Building Strong Community Networks Working Group will generate collaborative programming ideas aimed at better serving this community.

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