Autism Friendly Venues in Dallas-Dr. Tina Fletcher
4:28AM Aug 16, 2023
I am delighted to have Dr. Tina Fletcher, Professor of Occupational Therapy at Texas Woman's University. I am proud to say that I'm her student and will always be. Dr. Fletcher has contributed tremendously to education and the field of OT both as a school based practitioner, educator and research scholar. Her training and fine arts and sculpture blended beautifully with her passion for OT and education as she impacted the changes in her community. Dr. Fletcher is here inclusive occupations podcast because of the work she has done in creating sensory friendly, inclusive community spaces for individuals with autism. That began right here in our Dallas community, and has now spread across the country and internationally. I have included her extensive bio in the show notes. Without further ado,
let's jump right into the show.
Welcome to inclusive occupations, sharing stories of not just being invited to the party, but dancing. I'm your host Savitha Sundar, I'm a school based occupational therapist. This podcast is a space for OTs and others who work with children and youth in education to be informed, inspired, and empowered to create an inclusive community for the students they serve. Welcome, Dr. Fletcher. I'm just so excited to have you on inclusive occupations podcast. And in fact, you're the reason why I am on this podcasting track.
Right. Here my success story.
Yeah, it's it's been a fun ride. And I'm really thankful to you for for all the amazing creative assignments that you give us in class. So we'll begin our episode with your favorite cord, one that has guided you in your life's journey.
Well, I'm sure that you thought I was going to say something profound, but I'm gonna be honest with you. And my father has been gone for like 40 years now. But when I was growing up, and as a young adult, including my early therapy years, if something was stressing me out, or I was afraid to do something, he would say, Don't worry, in 90 years, you won't remember this in a way. And I have told myself that all my life, I thought, okay, 90 years, I won't remember I did this anyway. And Sabetha that's the truth. That quote has guided me forever. I do have other more spiritual ones. But I think that one is an honest answer.
I love it. And I don't remember many things a year later. So.
Right. Basically, I think my dad coached me to boldly go just like our professor, I mean, our provost at TW that's the tagline for Tw is boldly go. And so occasionally in the morning, my husband and if my children are home, they will say boldly go, Mike. Okay, so it's a lot like my dad's statement,
boldly go, I love that. I know I didn't do so Dr. Fletcher, you have done several amazing things in your career. And in this interview, I'd like to learn about the work you have done in creating inclusive spaces in our community. And there are two major projects that I know that you're involved in. One is the Dallas sensory consortium and the planning for autism project. So first, can you share with us about sensory days Dallas, how did you get involved in this and what is being done through this project?
Sure. I have been involved in this project for about 13 years. But one of the things that was really an underpinning of this project is when I was already a well established school therapist in northeast Texas. I got the bright idea that I also wanted to go to art school. And since I was the only therapist in my county, my schools, I had 10 school systems I was covering and my school systems were extremely flexible with me for nine years, while I got a BFA and an MFA in sculpture. And so then I was still working as physical therapists but the upshot is, I I felt like as a mature fully realized adult I was equally comfortable in art museums, as I wasn't therapy settings. And so I, long chain of circumstances happened. And I started working with the Dallas Museum of Art. And we started offering these events, the education team and I to about 20. Kids. Well, I, you know, grew and grew and grew until there was one one time, there were 450 people there. And we just felt overwhelmed. And I saw I was teaching at TW in Dallas, and I was getting requests from all kinds of people in the community to basically do the same thing. And I'm just going to say that really the OT students themselves were the people that sold the program, I all I had to do is be there. And pretty soon I realized what was happening is, you know, now we call it autism acceptance month, but at the time, it was autism awareness month, the month of April. And everybody was scheduling an event for that month. And then the rest of the year, it was just a blank slate. So I started, I realized I was the only person who knew about all these events, they didn't know about each other's events. So I said, Hey, why don't we, the Dallas Museum, the Dallas zoo, the Dallas Arboretum, the perot Museum of Nature and Science, and later the Dallas Public Library, Eric Johnson, building in downtown Dallas, and, oh, the frontiers of Flight Museum and the National sculpture center, I was like, let's talk and see if we can be a little more intentional about trying to provide services for people all year round. There's a lot of heavy hitters in the Dallas area. And everybody said, oh, gosh, yes, that's a great idea. So we, it was really a core of us. It wasn't everybody at the beginning, but especially the Dallas, the National sculpture center in the Dallas Zoo, and the Dallas Museum of Art, we really pulled everything together and decided that the first thing we needed to do was really have a mission. And, you know, as a therapist, it's easy to say you want to fix people, or, you know, provide an environment where people can be cured or treated. And what we were learning from parents is that really wasn't their agenda, they, they wanted to be able to just have fun with their kids and be in a judgment free environment. And I have a brother and a sister who have children with autism, and my brother in particular, was out. And he also has a son was verbal palsy in a wheelchair. And so he pointed out to me that, and this is my brother's blunt speech, that when you have a child with a disability, it's like you get put in jail, that that, you know, you take your child with this horse riding class. And instead of just being able to revel in the moment of your child being able to wrap wrap their arms and legs around you, the therapist is giving you this list of things for your home program. And I really thought about what my siblings, my adult siblings had said about raising their children. And the kids that I knew from small town, Texas, all these little small towns, and realized we don't have to be trying to fix people all the time. Because they're really okay, like they are in a lot of circumstances. So, so with the Dallas sensory consortium, we wanted to be clear on the fact that we were not providing a treatment center. And it was, yes, there was going to there were going to be therapists there but they were not going to be offering advice. We're just going to be promoting social participation and having a good time. And that's so it ended up that about every other month, there's something going on in Dallas. And so what my knowledge as a therapist is that what I learned is a lot of places felt a responsibility to always add something new and fresh and different each time. But what parents of kids were telling me is they like a predictable pattern. And so it really took a lot of the burden off the event planners who are constantly trying to outdo each other with something different. And, you know, I was like, you really don't have to do that. We had one episode where a young man freaked out because his favorite painting had been loaned out to another museum is a huge painting. And, and that's when we really started thinking who doesn't need something new, he needs to see his touchdowns. So you go to the place, whatever it is, and then you you see your familiar things and then maybe you're willing to edge out a little bit and try something just a little bit different. But to us it was we were just starting to recognize the pattern. And so that's how the sensory consortium happens. Wonderful.
So basically, you organize these events in these community Um, places said, well, the families, right. So it's it's specific days that kids on the spectrum are invited to come in with. That's one
way to do it. Yes, that's one way to do it. And you know, there's always Oh, another thing that is good about that is, let's say I represent the Eric Johnson Library in downtown Dallas. Well, right now, they are not hosting any events, but they always come to ours. And so sometimes whether we'll just, you know, obliterate an event, we're like, Okay, well, we can take it over to this museum. It's an indoor venue. And so we everybody helps each other out. Yeah. And so the frontiers of flight is a great example, we approach them, because we know a lot of kids who are neurodivergent kids, like transportation schedules, and trains, and planes and buses, all that stuff. And so we just contacted them. And they said, Oh, my gosh, we are your people. And we think some of the people that work here are neurodivergent. And we we need help. And so they had their persons recurrently admitted, oh, I think about two months ago, and I think they had almost 200 People come to it. So that's something that would have happened without the sensory consortium, kind of moving in toward them and saying, Hey, and now they affiliate with left field. And I'm super excited to say that love field wants to get involved with accessibility planning. Now, they wouldn't have sensory friendly events there. But the fact is that the ripple effect is there. So you're just trying to normalize autism? It's not it. It's no different than being left handed. I mean, it's just not the typical thing. But it doesn't mean it's abnormal. And, yes, I believe in early intervention. Yes, I do. But I also believe there's a point where you well, we just say, Okay, well, if this is the way you are, then how can we adjust circumstances so that you can benefit from them, and they won't impact other people in a negative way, because almost every single autism support you can think of, is actually not harmful to anybody. It helps people who are not English proficient, or who are from a different country and may not know the culture of the event. I mean, there's just a ton of things that are beneficial. So we should just build it that way in the first place.
Absolutely. I absolutely. And I was just going to ask you that question, whether the events that you organize, are they only open for those with differences? Or are they just
that's something we talk about a lot. At first, when we were, you know, working with a little handful of people, maybe 20 people, we asked that their child had the diagnosis of autism, but it quickly became apparent to us that there's no reason siblings, no typical siblings can't come. In fact, we're promoting a really nice play environment for kids to hang out with their siblings, which doesn't always happen. And so we started thinking, wow, we were seeing kids who, that were different, not typical kids, but we didn't know what was going on with them. And we decided we didn't care what was going on with them. And that's the way that if they needed some support to interact with the environment, that was fine with us. And so we sort of plan for typical supports that people on the autism spectrum tend to benefit from. But if somebody else comes in, and they have, it's pretty clear they have maybe a syndrome or intellectual disability or something like that, well, bringing that on. Now, having said all that, we can't just open it up to the universe, because there's, when the event becomes too crowded, you eliminate a lot of the benefit from it, because crowding and noise are in wait times, and all that are part of the problems with access for people on the spectrum. So if that becomes the big issue, that you need to turn it back to the venue and say, I think you guys need to think more about your programming across the board. And if you're getting all these people who want to show up for this thing, then you might want to consider we call them active ingredients, you know, offering some of the active ingredients into your mainstream programming. And I think interestingly, as we're moving into summertime, a lot of the summer camps are where people will tend to take their kids and enroll them and think oh, well, you know, if we don't tell him he's autistic, and we didn't talk to him about this and you know, and just give a chance to be like everybody else and it's not that long and and the people that the perot mean CME told me that they can usually last until about Wednesday. And then it's just too much. So, you know, they can't eat certain foods, and they can't wait for this or that, or they need to calm down, and there's nowhere to do it. And so our, you know, our feeling is just just tell us, give us some information. And you know, and we'll just try to accommodate as much as we can. So now, going back a few minutes, you said these are usually offered on a certain day? Well, we learned something from COVID. And we do have an open access publication in the World Federation of OT bulletin, I think, if you type in my name, and what the or sensory, it'll come up
for free. Those articles to my show notes, yeah,
okay. So we, we realized that there's more than one way to do this, and, and this was COVID. And so the Nasher we felt like was a good place to start our experiments, because it's a smaller museum than the DMA is right across the street. So what we did was, was we created these, we call them sensory totes, their little bags, and they have a little series of objects in them predictable, you know, you could pick them up at any of the museums and they you just hang on to your bag and take it from event to event. And then we tried to offer the event over a week's period of time. So that wasn't as manpower intensive, we didn't have as we didn't have people out there doing stuff with the young visitors, because it was COVID. In fact, we were working on developing like video programs, that, that that was hard. And by the time we got them figured out that a lot of that restrictions were gone, I still think it's a good idea. But we were we would set up like stations in the museum and provided a calming area, they needed that. And then people would just go on their own private, you know, autism friendly excursion. And, you know, I hate to even call it like a sensory friendly thing. Because it's more than that. I mean, we amp up the communication. And we we do make the sensory adjustments that we feel like are going to be useful, but but, you know, we embed a lot of stuff in the pre planning steps are heavy on the internet, like success stories, and, and those kinds of things. So, and picture schedules. So people will have an opportunity to go over that stuff at home as much as they feel like it's necessary. And for some people, it's really necessary, they'll laminate are scheduled to make placemats out of a everybody has one at home. And you know, everybody needs different amounts of prep. And then and then we try to include the event with some feedback. And I'm really big on getting feedback from people with autism and not just their families. I feel like that is something that needs developing, and I am trying to retire. So I hope somebody else will do it. You know, we've we've tried different things, and some have been more successful than others. But you know, we're moving in the right direction. And I think people's mindset is changing. I've had young guys with autism say, you know, why? Why is this the first time anybody's ever asked my opinion. And I told him, I said, Let it go. It's a school therapist for 27 years. And I think it's because we are so used to talking to your parents, and your parents are so used to speaking for you. And you're used to letting them do it, that it's it's habit training, we're going to have to just get out of that mindset, because I've interviewed a lot of people with autism. And some of them have insights that we would not ever get from their neurotypical counterparts or care providers. I mean, we just would not, though we've got to think that, like, bring in the guys who can't use words and that they're thinking hard about what we're talking about. And you know, all those people like Carly Fleischman kind of people if you know her on YouTube, they need to have their opinions counted.
But sure, I mean, I think the whole idea of presuming competence did not exist for the longest time. But yeah, I agree. This is very deficit focused medical model. We're just looking at what is wrong with you, and how can you how can we fix you and that's been exactly our our Mo for the longest time until exactly realize we've been wrong all along, and we need to hear.
I will tell you very quickly, a little vignette about my own therapy career. So I live in a small town and I'm serving all these small towns and so you see, the kids that you are treating. You see them in all their contexts. You see them at football games in a church and at the grocery store. I mean, they're just Some of the pets sat for me and taking care of my chickens. I mean, you know, it's just part of life out here. So one of my students I worked with for years, and he had what you would call full blown autism, a lot of the behavioral characteristics that are really famous. And one of the things he would not do was make eye contact. And so I remember, as a young therapist, I was really hammering him to get him to look at me. And I saw him at my local grocery store about, I don't know, 12 years later. And I saw him and he walked right up to me. And he tried so hard to stare into my eyes, he was basically saying, I know you. And he was. And I said, you don't have to do that, I realized what he was doing is looking at his reflection in my sunglasses, not really looking at my eyes. And his mom just started laughing. But it was a big aha moment for me because I thought, Here I am with him in a grocery store. And it would have been so much more functional, if he and I just spent time in the grocery store, when he was a young kid, instead of worrying about where his eyeballs were pointed. And at that moment, in Berkshire's grocery store, I thought, this is the way he came, we gave it our best. And now we need to help him figure out how to function in this world, if 12 years later, and everybody's been driving him crazy about all this eye contact stuff, if he's not going to do it. But we need to decide what is important for him. And it really probably would be other things. People just didn't like it. Because that's, that's how they were raised when they were kids looked me in the eye and all that stuff. So anyway, it's gonna really require a lot of shifting our perspectives.
was sure, for sure. And I think, I think that is like a big need for us in our practice to shift from this. We don't have a lot of time to be fixing these kids. But it's a lot more easy to change the community, the attitudes and just make these accommodations. And that in fact, benefits a lot of people who really don't have an identified disability or Yes,
whatever. They don't want one, they don't want to be labeled and realize if you are labeled, you get some things. But on the other hand, you lose some things
isn't evil. If you're labeled the target, though, the focus get that comes on. Don't be yourself, we need to fix you.
Yeah. Like I said, I'm all for early intervention. I think there's a place for things like ABA, I really do. But I think that we need to be more creative about how we look at long term planning and transition planning. So yeah.
So tell us about the planning for autism, which is your latest Pro.
Yeah, I was trying to retire back then. But I think God just drugged me by a hair back into the therapy world because I that applying for that grant in such a short period of time that I will never get this, but I'll try. Well, we did get it. And so the state of Texas gave us a quarter of a million dollars to work with people on the spectrum to promote community wide social participation. But unfortunately, like three months into the grant COVID hit. So it's very weird to be planning for social participation when many of us can do it. And so that's when I Okay, we have to just recalibrate. And so we decided that we were going to start this was like now it seems very common, what you and I are doing seems normal. But back then talking to people on Zoom was like unheard of. But we managed to get a raft of young men and women with autism. And we asked them their perceptions on social, sensory behavioral communication supports for autism, what they thought was important what they thought wasn't, then we turned around and asked the very same questions of people that represented all different roles within school systems, special education and regular general education and administration, etc. And then we asked just people in the community like your local insurance agent, and, and we learned a lot. It took us a year to do all those interviews and figure out what was going on and we really recognize some of the gaps in people's thinking and where they were aligned with that, okay, well, we're, we realize this, this is our sample, it's not going to generalize to the rest of the universe. But
again, what is that you were asking these people? We were
asking them how they felt communication, social and behavioral and sensory factors impacted the ability of people who are neuro diverse to participate in community life. And so a lot of the things they said were aligned. But we saw big gaps too, especially like, what we noticed, just as a trend was people who were community people like the insurance agents and the bankers, they were the ones that really had the skill sets of, we're gonna put some money into this, and we're gonna get this backing, and then we're going to build this thing. I mean, they were, they sent a powerful, but they also sent it like they didn't know the realities of what they were being powerful about. I mean, there was just an information gap. They, that's not what their training was. So the teachers were really lined know, the school people, because there were a lot of IT administrators too. They were really lined up with the realities of what it was like to live with autism. I mean, I felt like they were, they were, from my perspective, they knew what was going on. But they were not as empowered. They were not the ones that were talking about, we need $100,000. And this is what we're going to do with it. They knew what was going on, but they weren't mobilizing themselves. And we'd say, well, what out in the community are you seeing there and be like, Well, I only know what's happening in the school. So they, they just weren't doing that. And then the people with autism, a lot of them had a hard time stating what their challenges were. And and they would say, is that right? You know, I mean, they were, they were falling back in that thing of, well, my mom usually speaks for me, you know, it's like we had to parent we even offered them to have a helper, the communication helper, and three of the folks on the spectrum, had their helpers with them. And after about the fourth question, they were like, You can go now. They wanted to be able to, you know, and help or someone Oh, okay. And because once they were like, Okay, this is what we're gonna do, I want you and some of them were very polite about it. They were like, I don't mean to be rude. But I want you to leave right now. And then, I mean, it was kind of great. So So we feel like, you know, we need to figure out how you normalize the experience of being neurodiverse. But you just got to rein people in and want to throw money at that, quote, unquote, problem, you know, because it's not really a problem, but it's a difference, as well. And a lot of times, when we were doing our lit review to support all this, a lot of times what we're realizing is if you are going to build special pieces of equipment, on a playground, for example, it tends to isolate them even more, because then they're stuck over on this little certain thing, especially kids with, you know, mobility impairments. But anyway, so with planning for autism, we ran two paths. One of them was we wanted the kids on the spectrum to have young adults excuse me, they were all like teenagers. And in the early 20s, I wanted them to weigh in on what they perceived as barriers to community participation. And so we would go out and do these community audits, we hired these guys with autism. And they would do these community audits. And then they would go with some of the doctoral students in OT, who were their same age. And I'll tell you, once you get them out of their, their sights, if you just saw them, they would look like eight young adults together, even if some of them had unusual mannerisms. I mean, the distinction between typical and neurotypical I mean, neurotypical neurodiverse, really vanished. And, and so, but the OT students were really good at writing up reports, you know, their students, and the guys on the spectrum would be like, we need to tell them that they said the bathroom is a place that you can get away from a lot of the noise, but they've got to oil the hinges because it'll make you crazy. You don't just small stuff, or like the center of the store is always loud, unless they put those fitting rooms in the middle of the store, and then it absorbs sound. I mean, stuff we wouldn't never know. And then we would write a report for the venue. And these are and we would try not to make it overwhelming. We'd say, Hey, thanks for trying. Here are three things that you can make easy adjustments to, and here are three things you're doing really well. And then we would create a report for people on the spectrum and say, hey, they can't fix this. Here's how you can prepare yourself. So that really needs more work. And I think that we are on a super path for it. We did put the audit system on our website, and people will use it. Yeah,
it's a great resource out there and I just I spent through the day website and I was like, wow, this is such amazing. Yeah,
we well, we just wrote an article about it for autism Parenting Magazine, and they took it right away. They didn't even ask us to make any corrections. We were like, Oh, they were like, We need this. So they published that one. And then of course, you know about our concept of building portable sensory spaces that have ice fishing houses, which we learned for some museums in Canada. And, and then everybody is like, how do you do that? How do we make these and so we just are about to have an article come out this week, I think and teaching exceptional children. And so it's guidelines for creating sensory spaces using principles of autism architecture, which come from Egypt, you're saying that and they're evidence based, it's done by PhD architects in Egypt is really cool. And so that's, that's a, you know, a research to practice piece. But we need to write some more. We've read
Yeah, I was going to talk about the sensory spaces at the end of this. This interview. Yeah, I want to hold that thought for a little bit. Because Okay,
I did write about it. And ot practice, by the way, and another one on, we've written two stories for ot practice this year, that were paid for by the grant. The one was communication supports, and one was on sensory spaces, because I wanted therapist to, you know, I didn't want to like do an evidence based research article, I just want a therapist to get the guidelines so they could implement them. When that article came out. We started hearing from a lot of therapists like in Illinois, and the Midwest. And so my doctoral students, they were all like, Oh, don't do that. Yeah, trying to save. So I mean, people are doing it in other places, because they read that article. I mean, it's not rocket science. But it's nice to have somebody say, this doesn't work. This does work, you know. And it's not a treatment session. Yeah.
Yeah. Our podcast audience are mostly educators and school based
therapists. That's, that's my team. Yeah,
yeah. And one of the resources that I think would be fantastic for school based practitioners to use as the curriculum on supporting autistic learners on meaningful words, self care, and self advocacy and community environments. Actually, yes, those 14 and above, does about the curriculum resource, you have oh, yes, website, because I think it's just such a huge tool, because most OTS or related services stop in middle school, because we have kind of like, you know, anything we could for, like these developmental skills, and now what to do, it's not because we don't want to support we just really don't know what does afford and how to do
work with you, I, I'm with you. I mean, and as a special education related service provider, myself, I, I am all about tying these two, you know, state things that we have to do, you know, educational objectives. So we have a table in there that says, if this kid or pupil is having to be these goals, and this is what you can do in this curriculum that will support because I my goal was always always to support the teacher in the classroom. I wanted to be the therapist that when I came in the door, they were like, Fletcher's here instead of Oh, no, but you know, because we know it goes both ways. Right? Please don't think of one more thing that I have to do. Because I already have 24 sets of modifications to do over here. So I wanted to be a value added therapist. So here's how the curriculum works. Yeah, it's free on the internet. You we basically broke the curriculum into three sections, and it's self awareness, and then self care, and then self advocacy. And just talking about self care. I don't mean like your ADLs. I mean, like, if you are having a sensory overload, and you know that you're almost in the danger zone for losing your cool, what do you need to do? What are your triggers? What do you need to watch out for? And, and so as we were creating the curriculum, it came easily apparent to us that we needed the input of people with autism, which was challenging because a lot of them don't communicate in a way that we can use it, you know, and, or then it gets filtered through a supporter or myself or somebody and so it's like, is this what they really meant? So we took it to my possibilities and hired
some people possibilities into you know,
yeah, but we've even had do things like put a video camera on person's chest and just walk through the Dallas Zoo. Then we would take to my possibilities and say, Let's watch this. You know, one of the things that are going to be triggers because this is the number one route through the zoo, and these guys analyze it. Anyway, when all of a sudden done, we had like a 400 page curriculum, but we hadn't piloted it yet, because we just ran out of time, you know, COVID was lurking, and all of these activities, so it was really hard. So we, this year, I had two doctoral Capstone students do it full time, one went back to my possibilities, and one went to 29 acres. And the people at those facilities were a little different ones more independent lifestyle, the other ones more supportive. So we had two different kinds of perspectives. There are other places in Dallas that like, see people pilot it, and then to weigh in on it. And, and we learned a lot, you know, we learned that flexibility is the name of the game, and letting the people on the autism spectrum, co create some of the lessons if you can clearly convey to them what the goal of the lesson is, and, and brainstorm with them, some of them, especially at 29 acres, they have their own ideas about how they wanted to learn those activities. And so you as the facilitator have to be willing to hand over some of the reins on on this project. And some people are better at that than others. Some people want to control the whole thing, and others are a lot more fluid in terms of ownership. And if you want to make it a learner centered curriculum, which my doctorates in curriculum design, it, you know, it just makes sense. But it's harder to talk you meant it's I mean, there's things about it that are just not as easy. So we learned that having really good rapport with people, like you can't just go in and do one lesson sight back. And and making clean transitions from one thing to another, like saying, This is what we did last time, let's talk about it. Again, some of the lessons had to be retaught multiple times. So it's definitely a work in progress. And it would be a great project for somebody to pick up and run with, because there's a lot of work that still needs to be done. But we heard from a school system the other day and said, Oh, my gosh, I saw your curriculum, do you have a hard copy of that? And I said, Yeah, we have a few left from our grant. And so I'm gonna send one to the school system in the Dallas area. And they're gonna use it in their life skills class, which, but my students sent to me, they're here, they're all getting their doctorates in OT and they said, You know, honestly, a lot of this stuff would work in for us, the questions you're asking, would work for us. And I love that. Because it's not just special education, it's just life.
I think that's the beauty of inclusion, right? When you try to make the world more accessible for those on the ends, it's right for everybody in between. Yeah, in
tremendously, just giving a common language. So everybody, if you're like, like, even like, I don't like to say, at the museum, we were calling the sensory havens, de escalation spaces. And so we have to stop that because we're implying that people are going to freak out. So let's just call it something neutral, like a sensory space. And then people can make their own inferences about what they need. So what we would do is try to provide sensory spaces that did different things. Some of them were very quiet dark, others more stimulating, when gave you the remote, so you could turn on the music, however you liked it. And then people can figure it out themselves or whoever they're with can instead of us saying you have to de escalate now. And so part of that is I think part of the curriculum is just like, let's just get some uniform terminology. Going to describe this stuff.
Definitely. And I really want our listeners or OTS out there to take advantage of this curriculum and see how they can bring their schools because I think it's a huge, tremendous resource to see on, you know, the idea of one on one support to more of like a tier one level support for for schools. I mean, yeah, do that. We don't know how to do it. And here is the curriculum, let's go in. And
it's just a starting point. It is just a starting point, and, and a conversation tool and something you can show people on the spectrum or their families or the teachers and say, Well, can we use any of this to advance what we're already doing in a more systematic way?
Right. Yeah. So the other thing I thought was amazing is the autism accessibility audit forums. One that's done by the oddest individual one that is partner assisted. Nothing like this can be super helpful in schools. So I don't know have schools reached out to you for support in this environmental audits and I know that school based OTS are highly sought after for the understanding of sensory processes true. And the assessments are usually student targeted and less environment targeted, right? Everything. That's true, too. And I guess our role under IDE has historically been addressing student deficits. So now with Every Student Succeeds Act, understanding of our scope, do you find school based OTPs? Using these assessments? And is Well,
interestingly, I'll tell you, who's who I've heard more from than anybody is actually people in Great Britain. And I'm not sure wouldn't have expected that. But I haven't been on a lot of zoom calls with British people. You know,
I did a Google searches to find out if there was like a specific school, classroom and bar sensory classroom environment, a sensory or autism assessment audit, something like that. And it came from Scotland and UK.
And yes, I know exactly, and they're free and open access. And they informed a lot of our thinking, they really did. You know, we we tried to take her knowledge of the sensory system, we tried to factor in all the components, because the things classroom teachers tend to forget are things like, you know, the vestibular proprioceptive, deep pressure, you know, those sorts of things are really OTs, baileywick, there. So we tried to factor those in there. We asked people on the spectrum, what their triggers were. So we tried to factor those. And then we use some of those assessments that are coming out of Great Britain. But what we realized about a lot of them is for them the school day, like when everybody's in their seat and ready to go, that's when those audit form started. It did not factor in getting to the school, you know, accessing transportation systems, which is really part of the experience, like what's it like to be on the school bus, you know, those sorts of things. And so we felt like, that was a gap. We weren't finding anywhere in the tools we had. So we tried to expand out. And, and then, like I said, we try not to make them overwhelming for people that you're giving it to. You know, that's like back in the old days, when we would do the school function assessment, you know, and you'd ask the PE teacher to fill out a part of it. Well, their section was like 60 questions, and they only have 30 minute break a day. And so we just tried to streamline the process and hope that people would use it as a springboard to okay, I can see right now the problems are in the lunch room. So what else do we need to do? That this assessments not picking up on that? It gives us a starting point? You know, is it you know, school led troops, or I mean, I do too. I have children too. So I've spent a lot of time in schools, most of my adult life and my childhood. So anyway, we're never going to be able to anticipate all the things that people say, but at least we can get them started back to your question. There's, there's one school district that started using it, and they they're just going to start in the fall. So they aren't even really sure how they want to do it. I talked to the Autism Treatment Center. They're interested because you know, they, the Autism Treatment Center brings a lot of school kids from different schools to their program, you know, they bussed them in so for them, that trigger starts on the school bus. And some of those kids come from places that are pretty far like DeSoto. So the kids were on the bus for a long time, I went to a magnet school, I rode 27,000 miles on a school bus and I'm neurotypical, but I get it. It's It's rough. So anyway, so we'll see, I think that region 10 would be a great starting point for something like this. And they have asked me to bring sensory spaces here and there. And I'm like, you know, I'm retired, but I'll try. I'm still teaching, but I'm like teaching it 48.5%. So I have to stay under downtime. And in the fall, I was like, I just want to see autumn color one time, we tried last fall and had a wreck on our second day of seeing autumn colors. So we didn't really get to really try this year. So yeah, so I'll teach a summer I'll teach next spring, but that fall I'm holding. So So the upshot is, as a professor, I know that all my colleagues are really busy too. And everybody has their own line of research. And I can't assume that people are just coming as a oh, let's pick up Dr. Fletcher's line of research because it's so fascinating to us or to her are so needed. I mean, just everybody's busy. So that's the thing that worries me to have to be a professor to make this work. You know, there wouldn't be mystery on therapist,
hopefully an OT who's listening this.
I know I don't take it easily pick this up. And trust me if if an OT is brave enough and wants to contact me, I'll help. I'll help him write a grant. Because that's what you really need is somebody that can be paid to come in and and help implement your program. That would be
a great opportunity. We are opening up in this podcast. Yeah,
yeah. So who knows? But yeah, experienced therapists. That's something my students, they were doctoral students, but they weren't experienced. And so I think some of the snags they hit will not be such big issues for an experienced therapist. Yeah, not to mention those guys really wanted to date my students. I had to have some very, you know, overt conversations with some of them. These are students, you cannot ask her for a date, do not do that. And so they'd be like, Oh, nice.
I have so many more things I can keep. I know,
we can talk. But here's my takeaway did the community involved, just like I said, remember, they're the ones that have some money and the desire to be helpful, but they don't know what to do. So it's the therapist and the people with autism have got to self advocate and get out there. And, oh, let me tell you one more thing that was happening, that people on the spectrum instead of self advocating, they're asking Siri to do it for them. What do I do to take care of myself? Siri, what happens when I am feeling overloaded? And Siri would like say something, you know, and so haha, anyway, so So to just get all the groups and all the parties talking to each other I think is is and not making it filled. So much like your special needs person.
You know, when you said this, they were asking about Siri was going to help me. i Oh, my gosh, doing that a lot too. Like I go to Google Now. I'm having. Right? Oh, I'm so confused about this. We are in this time zone, we're making a decision. Artificial Intelligence
is definitely a factor.
Yeah, I think it's going to be our next brain. Very soon. Like it's be depending on it for Oh, yeah. We are already. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, that's really I mean, that opens another can of worms. And we talk about what I want. I want to tell you what I want. But do I really know what I want is another unanswered question, right? What are your like, if you were still like saying you reverted back to 25, and you have all this experience, and you're only 25 years old? And you have a project in front of you? What would be your next steps? What where would you want to take it?
Yeah, I was youngest person, I went to UTMB in Galveston, and my roommate, and I were by far the youngest graduates of the OT program. I think I took the reg exam on my 22nd birthday. And so honestly, one thing, I think my career went fine. I wish I had gotten my doctorate sooner. I wish I wish that had been an opportunity. I mean, we lived in Yellowstone Park, and back then they didn't have zoom. So you know, it just wasn't possible. There was no physical place to go to school. I wish I knew as much as I know now about research and writing as I do, because I feel like I could have had an even greater impact because like now, I am way past that. I've been a therapist for 43 years. And so when I got my reg renewal, and it said 43 years on the cover, I was like, Well, I met that don't write that very often. You know, so I was thinking that that people should remember my dad's advice, you know that in 90 years, you're not going to remember this Anyway, go ahead and stick your neck out and take yourself out of your comfort zone. And just do it. And, and you will be surprised that a lot of times people want a leader or somebody to step up my family, we didn't do college, we lived in the mountains to Montana. And so for me to be doing all these things is way out of what I was educated to do by my family. I mean, they would have been happy if I'd been a fly fishing guide. You know, and so I mean seriously, and so I do a lot of writing. I would have started Writing sooner I've written about 60 articles now. And we're writing a book. It's about 400 pages, all the museums and myself, I wish I had started that stuff sooner and been okay with things being rejected, instead of just, Oh, no. And then and then stopping. And now when I write, it's not hard, I can write fast. I'm pretty effective. But if I had started sooner, I think it would have been easier and be okay with being rejected, or be okay with somebody saying, No, we're not giving you that money. You know, but just to do something. So I think I think that is probably what I wish I had done. It's just been braver sooner.
So if you had somebody coming over to you and say, I want to take this project on and take it forward, what do you envision for the planning for autism project?
Oh, man, I would say Come with me. And you and I are gonna write a grant for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, because we already have a good reputation.
Okay, all rapid fire questions. How would you define inclusion?
Oh, you know, inclusion, I would love to align it closely with acceptance and accommodation. So not repair. Okay,
a memorable moment in your career. I know you've shared
when, when I was a cool chick, like maybe 24 years old, and I decided I was going to load my car up with kids who were totally fish 100% visual impairment couldn't see if they took them to the Air and Space Museum. And could hear them yelling, this stretch or miss stretch or look at us. And they were all on the lunar rover, the real one made out of very thin mylar pretending like they were driving a race car. So we got kicked out. But it was an amazing moment. As I was making my clean get away with all these blind kids, I ran over a dog and killed it. Oh, my gosh, it was the worst day of my life. So anyway, yeah, I know, people will love hearing that one. So
I was a therapist. As long as I've been a professor, which is a long time.
So a person you would recommend I invite to our podcast, or
Oh, like just in general? Oh, okay, I don't even know who this is. But I'm gonna give you a category. I think that you need to find some OTS who have done relief work, really on the border, or some of their places like that, because I've done a lot of relief work in the Republic of Korea, we can talk about that some other day. My husband and daughter and I've lived in a welfare colony, I think over a half a dozen times. And that's a whole different world. But of all the questions people asked me about anything, it's about international work, or working in a health missionary capacity. And I think we need to get the voices of people who might be able to address some of the issues on the border, as occupational therapists would be fantastic. And that's all I can tell you. I don't know who they are. But I would start with some of those ot schools that are in South Texas and say, help us find those people. Because I think because they're they're coming a lot of like a lot of people may say, Well, I don't even know what the difference between an immigrant and refugee is. I mean, there's a lot of things that I think, you know, I had a doctoral Capstone student, just work with relief kits, helping people with their ideals, and all the people that were using them were from Afghanistan. But she had no idea that she couldn't like speak to men. You know, I mean, they were like, That's not happening. And these women are not allowed to speak publicly. And so she had like, all these nuances to navigate. And this was in Amarillo, which has one of the largest refugee populations in the state of Texas. So maybe an OT who works somehow with the Red Cross, or something like that. I give you some names later, a little bit
out of my podcast genre, but someone's
really what happens about kids who are migrant workers, kids? Yeah. You know, and things like that. Kids who are on the road on the move kids who live in the family car. Yeah, yeah. So I live in a health manpower shortage area, my husband's the only doctor for miles. And so we see a lot of that. You know what happens? Those kids who are semi invisible, yeah, or semi because you have
a disability and then they have all these factors on top of disadvantage, the
language barriers are real. And I mean, I adopted a Chinese daughter and the language barriers and raising hers lasted. She's 23. Now she's fine, but they lasted
years. What is the book you're reading right now?
Oh, you know, it's school just let out. I just finished teaching. And so since I right now would like to be in Montana, I read books about my home state, I read mystery thrillers by CJ bucks. They do not require difficult and high level thinking. Stuff happens. Bad guys get caught. And so that's what I'm reading right now. I'm not gonna lie to you
a movie you would recommend
a movie? Oh, well, I have grandsons and so I am totally at their mercy on what we watch. And they're three and five years old. So I could recite every line from several Pixar movies. But if you want to have fun, the ultimate ot Pixar movie would be up. Oh, that is my favorite. That is the ultimate. I mean, that's the phase I'm in in my adult life right now as a 2d grandmother and man up is the ultimate. It has replaced the Karate Kid.
What's the best part of retirement?
I don't know. I haven't done it. I don't know I we tried on our second day of retirement. And last fall, we've had what drive to Montana and that fall and watch the leaves turn color. And our car was totaled by a mule deer. And we were not able to leave the Lakota reservation for almost a week because we were hurt. Our car was totaled. And so we don't know how long we're gonna the repetition isn't? Well, you know, I will tell you what we did. My husband and I took a splashy trip, and went and saw the Northern Lights in Northern Norway in January. And people were like, You're crazy. You shouldn't do that the weather's gonna be terrible. And it was and it was 76 foot swells every day for 16 days. So my husband said, this is like being on a really fancy Assisted Living Center, because we never leave the ship. But we can see about side. There were so great. My Norwegian people inside of me, we're going to finally so yeah. And the other great part is I don't have to commute because I do live 80 miles from Dallas, and my school and I did that for 20 years. So that was enough. Thank you, doctor. I never had a wreck. Let's go good. Yeah. Then we got three tickets. Two of them were not my fault. So anyway, yeah. So that's the best part is saying, No, I don't have to be on the search committee. And I want to be I don't want to teach you I like working with students, but I want to do all that other stuff. So they say would you do this or that? And I'm like, No, it's great. So thank you