This is a guest blog post from Shelley Spivey who is the owner and clinical director of the Waves Autism Center, an organization dedicated to providing support, social interactions, educational, and vocational opportunities for those that are autistic, creating friendships and connections that will last a lifetime!
In early 2018 my oldest son was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 17. As a mental health provider my first thought was, “I do not see anything inherently wrong with his perception of the world.” As a parent my first question was, “Are there any resources to help us bridge the way he sees the world with others that may have a different worldview?” What I discovered was that our area had limited resources, like so many other areas of our country. As a result, my family and I created Waves Autism Center, LLC that summer of 2018. It has been the best decision we have ever made. My son went from being shy and introverted to more confident and out-going, meeting others with similar challenges and concerns. He has also met many that share his same interests that further grows his confidence, knowing he is not alone and there are others that have similar worldviews. Today at the age of 21 he excels along with his brother, teaching many of our Waves’ groups and workshops.
In our first year we served those that were in elementary, middle, and high school. In the second year we added life groups to help our students to become more independent at home, work, and in school and began serving young adults 18+ as well. Everyone’s goals are different, and we strive to meet each of our students, ages 4 to adult, where they are. During our second year our in-person groups outgrew our small commercial space and we moved to a much larger educational building to meet the needs of our students and their families. We were in our new Waves home for 5 weeks when Covid took us online for the first time in March of 2020. This was a very challenging time since we were expecting most students would do much better meeting in-person.
I became proactive and began to seek ways to connect with our students after it became clear we would have to be online for the foreseeable future.
During this time, I decided that we would try to offer an online summer camp. I knew we had many students that were now at home. I wanted to make sure our students were able to connect with others and I wanted to create opportunities so they could receive support. I was concerned the pandemic was going to create a mental health crisis and hoped to find ways to connect with our autistic students to avoid this from happening. We have always taught our students to never give up and we have all learned to be adaptable in so many ways. I knew there had to be a way to meet our students online in a way that brought us all together.
After a google search, I soon learned about Blocksmith. It looked amazing, but at the time it appeared to be offered to larger programs and school systems that taught in a classroom setting. I decided to reach out to Blocksmith and soon met Colin Falconer, who is one of the employees of the game design program I was interested in learning more about. I knew many of my students were interested in playing games, while others aspired to be animators, computer developers, and game designers. What I learned that day would literally be a game changer for our program and for our students. Colin brought the Blocksmith XR Builder to our students as a Waves Summer Camp in 2020. Blocksmith made it adaptable so each of our students could join from their home setting. It was so easy for them to set up and participate. In the first year we received such wonderful feedback from our students and their families that they asked if we could create a Waves game design weekly group for the upcoming school year 2020-2021.
Colin has been instrumental in helping us to bring this amazing game design program to our students through the online Blocksmith XR Builder each week. At the beginning of this new school year 2021-2022 we were so grateful not only to offer the Waves Beginner Game Design Group, but also our Waves Advanced Game Design Group as well.
Each week I see and hear about the skills they are learning and the friendships that are being created. I often join in to support when it is needed. Because this program is online, we are able to meet students no matter where they live. You do not have to be a Georgia resident to join one of our Waves game design groups or one of our Waves social or life groups. If a student had been sent home to quarantine, they were still able to join in with us each week to work on their projects, finding hope and a future.
We are grateful to be able to bring students together that have similar interests so that they will grow in confidence and learn new skills that may be helpful as an entrepreneur, in school, or in the workplace. We are able to address social anxiety a student may be having, help them to learn to be a self-advocate so they know how and when to ask for help when it is needed. In our Waves gamed design groups students are able to learn about taking turns and good sportsmanship along the way.
Another important part of the Blocksmith XR Builder is the Quest summary. If a student is unable to join in one week or needs extra time to complete a project, the Blocksmith quest summary helps our students to work at their own pace. They are able to find step-by-step instructions that are covered in between our weekly groups at no extra charge. They do not have to worry about falling behind or being held back. Our groups are adaptable for our student’s needs. For the best outcome it may be helpful for students to have a knowledge of basic computer skills to navigate their computer, tablet, or chrome book or have someone nearby to help them when needed.
Each week we learn about new things that Blocksmith has added such as the ability to add their own artwork or storyline narratives in the student’s projects. They are able to interact with other students in real time to play the games that they have created. Students are also able to view their projects through virtual reality that many of our students enjoy.
If you would like to connect with us to learn more about our Waves Game Design Groups, please send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our webpage for more information about all of our groups at www.wavesautismcenter.com
We are also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wavesautismcenter.