Attacking Autism Online
By Martin Lenkowsky / May 1, 2016
The old English proverb "Necessity is the mother of invention" certainly rings true for Parkland resident Debbie Singer.
Singer, a special education teacher at Park Trails Elementary School in Parkland for the past 15 years, works with autistic children and noticed there was a need for more and better resources. "They only had textbooks," she said, "and kids with autism cannot learn that way.
"I have lived in Parkland for nearly 20 years," she added, "and have watched the education system go through many ups and downs, as my two children attended our local schools."
That's when her creative juices started to flow, and with the help of the tech-savvy skills of her son, Blake, she turned an idea into a reality. "When my son was in college, I got serious about creating a website," Singer said. "My son, who is now an aerospace engineer in Seattle, built and designed it."
The website enables educators worldwide to obtain either free - or purchase for only a minimal cost - hands-on products or activities designed specifically for the needs of autistic children. "We've had great response from the website," she said, "and we created it all from home."
Her son still handles all the designs and tech support. "He donates his time," she said.
"I've always been involved in technology," Blake said. "I was always the computer whiz in the house. I've always been interested in programming. I started that in middle school. I did that as a hobby."
And when he saw his mom had many activities and products she wanted to make available online, he got to work. "I built a website for her," he said. "While I was dealing with the tech stuff, she was able to focus on creating all the activities and products. Everything is instantly downloadable so people have instant access to them."
Blake, now 24 and a University of Florida graduate, still makes improvements to the website. "I make sure everything is running smoothly," he said. "I do tech support for anyone who wants to use the products or services. Our goal is to get it out there. It's a weight lifted off their shoulders to get these products available to them."
Many of the site's activities are geared toward teaching autistic children to read. "To watch them learn to read is the biggest thing," Singer says. "To me, if you can read, you can accomplish anything."
Singer's website helps both teachers and parents on a daily basis by providing a free Individualized Education Program (IEP) Goal Bank to assist teachers in writing student goals, as well as a parent resource section for families to download activities and information. The website is AutismEducators.com.
"We are growing quickly and have teachers from all over the world joining our cause of autism awareness," she said, including Australia, Israel, India, and Nigeria.
Laurie Kaufman, who teaches autistic students in third to fifth grade at Park Trails, finds Singer's website helpful. "This online resource provides high-quality, creative materials that assist me with meeting the needs of my students with autism," Kaufman said. "The website allows me to choose activities that can help my students meet their IEP goals. If I need inspiration for writing an IEP goal, I will go to AutismEducators.com. It's a fabulous site with great activities."
A popular resource on Singer's website is a "wish list." Teachers, therapists, and other educators can go on the site and register on the list, by simply making a list of products they feel would benefit their students. When one creates a list, he or she purchases, as a donation, an item on another person's wish list. In turn, Singer explains, the website will credit that person's account for the amount he or she donated.
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