Clubs on Campus: On the Spectrum

On The Spectrum (OTS), founded by Julie Lapidus SC ’11, is a new 5-C club for students who want to spread awareness for autism—the fastest-growing developmental disability.As described in the group’s mission statement, OTS is “committed to helping children with any of the autism spectrum disorders and their families in the Southern California communities through mentoring, recreational activities, outreach, and education. In addition to providing various services and programs, recreational opportunities, and events for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families, OTS is also committed to educating the Claremont community about autism and the various autism spectrum disorders.”Autism is a neuro-development disorder characterized by repetitive behaviors, communication difficulties, and impaired social interaction. “Autism” is actually a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental disorders referred to as autism spectrum disorders. These encompass a wide range of disorders and can include someone who is low-functioning and non-verbal or high-functioning and verbal, as with Asperger’s syndrome.According to Autism Speaks, one in every 150 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes, and pediatric AIDS combined.Autism is more common in males, who comprise 80 percent of cases. It is also the fastest-growing developmental disorder, yet “receives less than five percent of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases.” It is unclear what causes autism, and there is no cure. However, early intervention can help a child significantly through therapeutic and other services.Less emphasis is placed on services that focus exclusively on teaching learned behaviors of social interaction. Since a lack of social skills characterizes autism, it may be equally important to engage individuals in recreational activities that teach social skills in a non-threatening environment, a major goal of OTS.Members of OTS can be involved in two different programs this semester: a mentorship program and a ballroom dance program. Members can volunteer at AbilityFirst, a Claremont non-profit devoted to helping those with disabilities, where they mentor a person with autism between the ages of four and 21. Mentors act as models for doing normal recreational activities with others and serve as positive role models for their mentees.The other program OTS is involved in is Happy Feet—a collaboration with AbilityFirst and the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company (CCBDC). Some members of OTS, many of whom are also members of CCBDC, get together once a week to teach the children of Abilityfirst how to ballroom dance. This teaches social etiquette in a fun, non-threatening way and helps improve motor skills, which are often lacking in children with autism.According to Dr. Sara McCracken, director of The Help Group Autism Spectrum Disorders Programs, there are many benefits of dance for children with autism spectrum disorders.“In addition to learning the steps and keeping the beat, dance involves learning appropriate physical boundaries, social dance position, proper posture, and the social rules of dance,” McCracken said. “It’s a dynamic interaction that requires making eye contact, integrating sensory input, coordinating movement, and the ability to relate to others.”Members of OTS also attend meetings with the Autism Support Group in Claremont, which meets weekly at the Center for Spiritual Living. Other programs OTS has planned this semester include film screenings, speakers, educational awareness, and events for children with autism and their families.The club will hold a Spa Night on Nov. 20. Come support OTS and learn more about autism while watching movies, having your nails done, getting henna tattoos, enjoying a massage, and eating great snacks.If you are interested in joining OTS, please e-mail Julie Lapidus at Meetings are once every other week, and new members are always welcome.

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