Inspiration and Training Yield Spectacular Results
By Emily Iland
Emily Iland returned home from her 2003 New Year’s vacation home to cries for help, one cry from a friend and another from a stranger. Both had 14-year-old sons with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and both boys had been interrogated by school law enforcement personnel for criminal activity. They called upon Emily because her son had been diagnosed with the same disorder seven years ago, at age 13.
ASD is a disorder of socialization, communication and behavior. Lack of skills and understanding in these areas can put people with ASD at risk, no matter how smart or high-functioning they may be.
In response to the New Year’s phone calls, Iland created an organization that could help school and law enforcement personnel handle criminal behavior from young people with ASD in a more appropriate manner. Her goal was to help educate those who come into contact with ASD students to understand the ways that ASD affects a person’s judgment, understanding, socialization, communication and behavior.
Iland, an author, child advocate and community organizer, attended a Community Leadership Class sponsored by the Employee Training Institute at College of the Canyons, the City of Santa Clarita and the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies to improve her skills as a community volunteer and leader. The course offered networking with city and community leaders that related to the project she planned to launch.
From these classes, Iland created a special project to assist law enforcement in identifying those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She named her project CLEAR: Community and Law Enforcement Aware Response.
Project CLEAR took shape through a series of educational and informational classes. The first two Community Leadership classes, “Leadership and Coaching in a Collaborative Environment” and “Ethics for Today and Tomorrow” established a philosophical approach to a new volunteer organization, and Iland learned to involve those who would be involved in the project in a dialogue to establish and shape it.
The third class, “The Art of Asking and Answering Questions to Communicate Effectively,” focused on “active listening” and how to “hear” better. At the next meeting of her organization, she was able to facilitate a discussion that helped everyone contribute and listen to each other respectfully. Iland says, “I carefully followed the rules I was taught in class to facilitate the meeting and was amazed to see how well it worked.”
The next two classes, "Government and Economic Development" and “Safety and Emergency Management in the Santa Clarita Valley,” gave Iland direct access to the very leaders of community agencies that her CLEAR team wanted to involve in her project. Instructors included the city manager of the City of Santa Clarita, Ken Pulskamp; sheriff’s Capt. Don Rodriguez, and the Sheriff Department’s Community Services officer, Donna Elliott. Iland found them very responsive and interested in collaborating in her efforts.
According to Iland, “The CLEAR committee was growing, and more of the people who were needed were becoming involved, thanks to the COC class.” She felt some intimidation in having the CLEAR project grow so quickly, and having so many important people collaborating. “I had never organized a grassroots project before,” said Iland, “and CLEAR was becoming large and complex.”
The timing of the next Community Leadership Class topics helped her get a handle on the scope and shape of CLEAR. Topics included: Directing Change and Time Management, The Changing Face of Business, Project Management Skills, and Finances for the Non-Financial Community Leader.
The class on diversity helped build her model for an organization with balanced representation. She used the “Persuasive Writing Techniques” and “Effective Presentations” classes to effectively spread the word about CLEAR and actually launch the project. She wrote a concise vision statement, goals and objectives for her committees. She felt confident in delivering a presentation to representatives of about 12 different agencies, including the city and Sheriffs Department, describing the activities of her organization.
Through networking and putting to use everything she had learned, Iland built a strong organization. “The contacts made in the class the instructors, facilitators and classmates were interesting, enjoyable and helpful,” said Iland. “I left the class feeling that others had confidence in me and I should have confidence in myself.”
About the author: Emily Iland co-authored the book, “ASD from A to Z: Autism Spectrum Disorders: What to Know, What to Do,” published by Future Horizons in winter 2003 and is an advocate and leader of the CLEAR Project. She wrote grants and helped the Wm. S. Hart Union High School District and the elementary school districts start inclusive educational programs to help non-disabled children understand and befriend kids with disabilities. On average, she spends 20 to 30 unpaid hours per week helping children and young adults with ASD and their families.
Still Time to Enroll in Late-Start Yoga Class
The fall 2003 semester has been under way at College of the Canyons for a month and a half, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enroll in some classes that get a later start.
A late-start yoga class is a good example. Starting Oct. 6 and running through Dec. 15, a yoga class that meets from 5 to 7:20 p.m. and again on Saturday from 1 to 3:20 p.m. still has plenty of openings.
The class is an introduction to the physical practices of yoga, including breathing techniques, poses, postures and stretching exercises to promote flexibility. This is a 1-unit, for-credit class available through the COC Dance Department.
An estimated 20 million Americans participate in yoga classes across the country, and many pay inflated rates for the privilege.