The recent Camp Fire destroyed much more than homes in Paradise, Calif. and the surrounding areas. In many cases, people lost their jobs, cars and communities. And as devastating as fires can be for adults, they can be especially traumatic for children. For those with special needs such as autism, coping with change and loss can be even more difficult.
Thanks to quick thinking by UC Davis MIND Institute staff and faculty, special educators in Butte County who lost everything are now better able to support their students.
“They need everything,” said Patty Schetter, coordinator of the California Autism Professional Training and Information Network (CAPTAIN), a project of the MIND Institute’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. “Teachers don’t even have desks, chairs, printers or ink − things you don’t think about. They lost it all.”
Schetter is a former Butte County Office of Education employee and still has close connections in the area through her work with CAPTAIN. When calls for help made their way to the MIND Institute, she and her colleagues acted immediately.
Special needs wish lists fulfilled
“We were all talking about what we could do that would be meaningful,” said Amber Fitzgerald, project manager for the MIND Institute’s Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health (AIR-B) “Teachers from Butte County created an Amazon wish list with their greatest needs and we shared with our connections on social media and email.”
The MIND Institute’s Aubyn Stahmer, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, also created a wish list, shared with friends and colleagues, then delivered the donations to Chico, and Maggie Daugherty of the Butte County Office of Education, found donors to buy needed furniture for fire victims.
Before they knew it, teachers from all over the region, including Solano and Santa Cruz counties, stepped in to help. Because there were no physical locations to ship materials to, many sent their orders directly to Fitzgerald’s home for distribution.
MIND Institute staff deliver donations to Butte County special education teachers
Together with other MIND Institute staff and faculty and a CAPTAIN network member, Schetter and Fitzgerald made four trips to Butte County and dropped off donations at makeshift classrooms and school sites. People who couldn’t make the trip offered to prepare and create visual supports for special educators who rely on them to teach children.
“It’s hard to teach without a purposefully planned structure,” said Fitzgerald. “Visual aids can help students with autism and other disabilities maintain the structure they need throughout the day. The destruction of schools and exposure to new environments can be unsettling, especially for kids who need routines, consistency and predictability to help them be more independent.”
The MIND Institute team is glad they’ve been able to help their Butte County colleagues and will continue to support them as long as necessary. Schetter and Fitzgerald agreed the existing relationships and connections among the special education community in California ensured that Camp Fire victims got support.
“The network we’ve established gave us this really easy vehicle to get the word out and call people who had a common interest,” said Schetter.
“We ask a lot from our community partners to help with research and to participate in our overall objectives,” Fitzgerald added. “It’s been great to see there’s a reciprocal relationship and they understand we’re here to help.”