I was introduced to Valerie Paradiz through her honest and moving book, Elijah’s Cup, the story of raising her son before, during and after his autism diagnosis. This was just the beginning.
Valerie transitions from teaching at Bard College to founding a school for children on the autism spectrum. Despite amazing reviews and press, the school is closed due to lack of funding and she is invited to relocate the program model to NYU’s Asperger Institute in New York City.
As the story unfolds, she goes on to form her own consultancy in addition to developing the Integrated Self-Advocacy Curriculum. This terrific curriculum teaches children and adults on the spectrum how to identify their sensory and social triggers and how to advocate for themselves in order to address them. The curriculum instructs teachers, professionals and families first to be sensitive to children’s sensory issues and second, empowers them to make the necessary changes in their physical environment.
Valerie’s story doesn’t end there. She goes on to work on a pilot program in the New York City public schools that adapts the curriculum for every type of learner on the autism spectrum and focuses primarily on “Sensory Scans.” With these scans, a student can go into any physical space with a methodology for understanding what does and doesn’t work for them in that space and understanding how to make changes in order to fully function while in that environment.
Valerie is also directing the Autistic Global Initiative for adults under the funding umbrella of the Autism Research Institute. I was able to see the group in action last fall at the ARI Conference in Anaheim. It is comprised solely of people on the spectrum with a range of professions and interests. They provide advice and training to the ARI and to other organizations and schools.
With a Targeted Family Services Grant provided by Autism Speaks, Autistic Global Initiative created the Daily Living/Residential Curriculum and Training for Direct Support Providers to Adults with Autism. “Completed by a multi-disciplinary team of 15 curriculum experts across the United States, this first-of-its-kind training is designed to build capacity in residential adult services wherever adults with autism live, including in private homes with their families, group residential settings, assisted living, agricultural, and intentional communities.” This work fills a huge void and is the first step toward making sure that staff is properly trained and credentialed.
But the story is even more fascinating: Valerie was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome herself, 9 years ago, at the age of forty. This was during the period when she was navigating in a very complex city at a major research institution. Today, Valerie is living in California, consulting and working on her research and many initiatives. What seems like a very full plate to most of us is a great mix of roles and work that she loves. We are all fortunate that she is so generous with her time and knowledge.
I am inspired!