iCan House Provides Support, Social Interaction for People With Autism

120 families depend on iCan House every week to learn essential life skills.


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iClub is a curriculum-based social interaction club designed for young people with social deficits. Participants interact with others while learning social skills and gain the confidence necessary for success in the real world.

Photo courtesy of iCan House

As the parent of a young daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome, Kim Shufran of Winston-Salem was frustrated with the lack of resources and the misguided notion that such children were impaired.

So in 2008, she decided to create her own resource — the iCan House — a place that has been a lifeline for hundreds of children and adults. It provides programs that teach and foster social development for those on the Autism spectrum and those who have ADHD or other challenges that inhibit social interaction.

The iCan House became a nonprofit organization in June 2009.

Shufran said that since opening, more than 400 people have attended iCan House programs.

“Today, 120 families depend on us every week to learn essential life skills and for support,” Shufran said.At iCan House, children, teens and adults are learning skills to perform in school and be successful on the job. No other place like iCan House exists for someone to learn these skills while belonging to a group that accepts them.”

Two of the programs that help children (all participants at the iCan House are called members) are iClub (innovation club) Junior and iClub. Though the age groups are not set in stone, iCan Junior is for kids ages 8 to 10, while iClub members are generally in the 11-14 age range.

Sessions for iClub members run from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. several days a week.

Family journeys

At a recent iClub meeting, while their children were upstairs, mothers waited downstairs, talking about their kids. The parents’ and children’s last names and hometowns have been omitted for privacy.

Amy and her husband adopted Tasha from China when she was 11 months old.

“She lived her first year in an orphanage, and she had significant delays,” Amy said. “She didn’t speak her first sentence until she was 3 and a half.”

Tasha’s speech therapy revealed that she had apraxia, a communication disorder that affected her motor programming system for speech production. She has had difficulty in speech production, specifically with sequencing and forming sounds.

“The brain and the mouth aren’t communicating and so forming words is difficult,” Amy said.

Tasha has a “severe anxiety disorder,” Amy said. “Socially, it’s crippling.”

Her anxiety usually involves interactions with older adults. “It is so socially debilitating for us as a family.” She was later diagnosed with autism.

Amy found out about the iCan House in 2014. “That was prior to her autism diagnosis. But at the iCan House, you do not have to have a diagnosis to be a member,” she said.

Tasha, who is homeschooled, has been a member of the iCan House since January, and it has been a godsend for both Tasha and her parents.

According to Amy, “From the first time she attended a meeting, she felt comfortable. She loves the kids and has fun.

“She has an affinity for young people. Young people are the facilitators in the meeting. So she looks up to them with awe and admiration and that is a perfect fit for her, just perfect.”

Tasha is an only child, and Amy and her husband work at different times “so one of us has always been with her.”

“It’s been just wonderful, it’s the first thing we’ve done that she looks forward to coming to,” Amy said. “Usually the night before speech therapy or other things that we’ve gone to, she gets very anxious and just starts having a breakdown or spending the whole time underneath a table. This is the first fully successful thing that we’ve had.”

Ryan, 9, has autism but “is very high functioning,” his mother, Brandy, said. He was adopted when he was seven weeks old from a foster adoption program in a state where the family previously lived.

Ryan is in general education, his mother said. “I’m a teacher, so he goes to school with me.” He is in the fourth grade.

Before entering kindergarten, Brandy said Ryan “was a little bit quirky, and I liked that about him.”

“Then his kindergarten teacher would tell me these stories, and I would be shocked and really taken aback,” she said. “He had no concept of social awareness. He likes other children, but he has his way of seeing the world and marches to the beat of his own drum.”

“The first time he came to the iClub, afterwards he said ‘I want to come back, I love it there,’ ” she said.

“I’m excited,” she said. “Here he gets to be himself. Here he doesn’t have to be judged. I can already see an increase in his self-esteem.

“Before kindergarten, he had wonderful self-esteem. But when he started school, he was constantly being asked by adults, ‘Why do you do this?’ or ‘Why are you doing that?’ He was in the principal’s office in kindergarten.”

Brandy said that when Ryan is in the iCan House, “it’s like ‘ahhh.’ He’s instantly comfortable, at ease with himself.”

“Here he gets to be himself. Here he doesn’t have to be judged. I can already see an increase in his self-esteem.” — Brandy, mom to 9-year-old Ryan, who has autism

The facilitator

Program assistant Kristin Patterson is the facilitator for the iCan Club. A native of suburban Atlanta, Patterson graduated from Georgia College and State University with a degree in special education. She taught for a year in Georgia before moving to Winston-Salem, where she taught special education for a year at Ward Elementary.

She said she learned about the iCan House from her fellow teachers. “I looked it up online and saw the members needed social skills so they would feel like they belong in a safe environment.”

In her sessions with the iClub and the iClub Junior, she uses a curriculum that focuses on making members feel safe and part of a group. “I have members tell the group about their interests, we play games and work through scenarios of coping with what they might face outside the group.”

She agrees with Amy that members feel more comfortable with younger adults. “I think the kids think that younger people are kind of cool,” she said.

She said members come to the iCan House from all over western North Carolina, and some even travel from out-of-state for the programs. Clubs are usually capped at eight members, she said.

To become a member of the iCan House, call 336-723-0050 to receive additional information and to start the admissions process. You can also go to the website at iCanHouse.org. There is a fee for services.

 

Anne Wooten Green is a freelance writer and editor based in Winston-Salem. She has a brother, 48, who has autism.

 

 

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