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Kelleher instructs teachers to deal with autism in the classroom

By Brittany Mezzancello
On March 14, 2012

On Tuesday Feb. 28, Dr. Jacqueline Kelleher continued the Presidential Inaugural Lecture Series, “A Time for New Beginnings,” with a presentation on educating children with autism.

The presentation, which was part of the Academic Research Showcase, was entitled “Film and Perspective-Taking: Educating Educators on Youth with Autism.” Kelleher represented Sacred Heart’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education.

As the mother of twin boys with autism, Kelleher hopes to teach the Sacred Heart community, especially educators, the importance of understanding children with autism spectrum disorders.

Kelleher realized early in her education career that all teachers did not understand or know how to work with autistic children. After recognizing the problem, she sought to find the solution and provide educators with the materials they need.

But the topic had not been researched extensively enough for Kelleher to teach fellow educators.

“I didn’t have anything to educate my teachers with,”she said. “The information did not exist. There were no authentic materials that I could find. And there was a lack of resources for educators, administrators, and families.”
After years of searching for the information and materials, and many trips to the library, Kelleher came to terms with the fact that the information was simply not there.

“We are going to have to build it ourselves, based on real thinking, real experiences, and real situations,” she said.

The elements that Kelleher explained were a necessary part of the project are understanding the characteristics of the disability, identifying the individualized needs of each child, and developing programs that reflect these needs.

Kelleher also addressed the areas of difficulty that children with autism are often faced with. These include socialization, pragmatics, and obsessive interests.
“It is often hard to address these issues, and it is especially not easy when you do not think this way,” she said.

Kelleher’s lecture featured her pilot project, a film called “Dungeons and Distractions.”

Her two twin boys were not only a part of the lecture, but they were included within their mother’s film as well.

Kelleher’s son, Tyler, explained the central ideas of “Dungeons and Distractions.”

“The majority of the film is based on actual events,” he said. “My brother and I just showed them from our perspective.”

The film portrayed the life of a student with autism. The short film begins with the student walking to class, continuously looking down and then back to up to his peers.

According to Tyler, images such as these are meant to give the viewer an idea of the child’s thought process and experience.

In order to improve the performance of a student with autism, educators must understand the difficulties that the students have and learn to properly address them in a classroom setting.

“As a result of viewing this video on autism, SHU students will demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics portrayed by children and youth with autism,” said Kelleher. “This is strengthening perspective -- taking skills concerning individuals with exceptional needs.”

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