By Mike Cook
As part of the passion for community service that led her to start her own nonprofit, a high school student from Las Cruces created a website to help children with autism learn.
Shreeya Moolamalla, 16, a senior at Mesilla Valley Christian Schools (MVCS), started Autism Hub (autismhub.us) end of July.
Moolamalla and other MVCS students were working with young children struggling with neurodiversity (variations in brain function and behavior), health, and financial issues through the nonprofit HandinHand they have created. During her interaction with autistic children, Moolamalla said she discovered that there were few online resources focused on teaching and learning for young children identified as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“I should create something,” Moolamalla decided last June, to “complement the current education system to support K-6 learning and cater to people with autism,” she said in the statement of intent on its website.
She began meeting and talking with autism professionals in Las Cruces and other parts of the state, including New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico. . She consulted with teachers, therapists and parents of ASD children to create the site, Moolamalla said, which is designed for parents and guardians to navigate with their children.
The result is a website with an “easy, consistent format” that children with ASD can follow without being triggered by a variety of stimuli and routine changes.
Autismhub.us has eight sections: Self-Regulation, Math Learning, Science Learning, Awesome Art, Writing Workshop, Speech Help, Social Skills Development, and Brain Breaks.
Each section is designed “to help every child with autism learn STEM subjects in a fun way, have a place to express their creativity, self-regulate, and teach them social and expressive skills,” Moolamalla said in the statement. intention on the website.
“I want them to have fun,” she says.
On the Awesome Art page, for example, you’ll find drawing ideas, coloring pages, and craft projects created by Moolamalla, broken down by holidays. Drawing ideas in the Halloween section include a jack-o’-lantern and “whatever you want to be for Halloween.” Arts and crafts ideas, including making treat bags and windsocks and Halloween masks. A treasure map and “awesome forest” are included in the “random drawing prompts” section. Coloring sheets include baby dragons, a dinosaur, and outer space.
The Learning Science section took the longest to create, Moolamalla said. It includes 10 topics, including the solar system, plants, weather, food, and animals. It includes experiments like making playdough, painting with ice cream, and building a bridge with popsicle sticks.
The Speech Skills section includes interactive worksheets to help with understanding and pronunciation of everything from fruits and vegetables to likes and dislikes.
The Social Skills section contains 20 videos that Moolamalla has created to help children learn everyday social skills, such as taking turns, washing hands and brushing teeth.
The website’s home page includes a feedback form, which Moolamalla says is “open to any advice any professional might have to make this website as fun and useful as possible.”
“I really want feedback,” she said.
Children with ASD “have a passion for learning,” said Moolamalla’s close friend and HandinHand co-founder Kelly Starritt. “They are so capable.”
Kids diagnosed with ASD “should be able to find their passion,” she said. “That’s why I started this.”
Moolamalla is reaching out to schools and local and state governments to tell them about Autism Hub.
Contact Moolamalla at [email protected]
What is autism?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as “a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is described as a developmental disorder because symptoms typically appear within the first two years of life,” according to www.nimh.nih.gov.
Citing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association to help healthcare providers diagnose mental disorders, the NIMH said that “people with ASD often have difficulty communicating and to interact with others; restricted interests and repetitive behaviors; and symptoms that affect their ability to function in school, work, and other areas of life.
“Autism is known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience.”
The NIMH said the cause of ASH is not known, “but studies suggest that a person’s genes may interact with aspects of their environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD” .
The national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2021 that approximately one in 44 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to 2018 data. The CDC said that one in 27 boys and one in 116 girls had autism.
See an ASD brochure on www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/autism-spectrum-disorder.
Also visit www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.