Hi. My name is Ashlyn Jackson. I want to tell the story behind the beginning of Are You Puzzled, LLC, and the development of the Autism Cube ©. The initial idea began as I worked on my Girl Scout Gold Award. I started in Girl Scouts when I was in second grade, and this is where I met a lot of my friends. Several girls in our troop dropped out over the years, but 7-8 of us stayed in this troop for the whole time. One reason I loved the time I spent in Girl Scouts and stayed involved for all those years was because our troop was active in the community and participated in many activities.
Going to Girl Scouts was a way for me to help people and the community and still get to have fun with my friends. I progressed through the different levels in Girl Scouts and achieved my Bronze and Silver Awards. Both of these awards required a special project. I did my Bronze Award project with my whole troop and then my Silver Award project with another girl in my troop, so I had help working on those projects. When I became an Ambassador Girl Scout, I was able to pursue the Gold Award, which is the top level in Girl Scouts. I was a little hesitant about my Gold Award project because I had to do it all by myself. But, I had a strong passion to help the community and people.
As I thought through the ideas for my Gold Award project, I thought about my older brother who has autism but was not diagnosed until he was a freshman in high school. From the time he started school, some of the teachers thought he was just a problem child because he didn’t know how to respond to some situations in class the way others students did. My brother would sometimes act out in class when certain situations overstimulated his senses or when he got stressed or confused. The teachers did not understand there was a reason for him acting this way. These thoughts became the beginning of my Gold Award project.
For my project, I decided to create a visual aid for teachers to use so they will be able to help students like my brother – those who may look like they are acting out but are actually struggling in the classroom setting for various reasons. I called this aid the Autism Cube. The teacher’s aid is colorful so it is easy to recognize and can be set on the teacher’s desk. It shows ways that a child on the autism spectrum might act out in class and some reasons that might cause those actions. It also shows some potential ways that a teacher can help the student – such as helping the student to understand the task that is being asked, helping the student to relax, and others. On each side of the Autism Cube there is a topic – such as melt downs or sensory issues. On the puzzle pieces on each side, there are specific tasks or problems the student might be having. Inside each of these, there are potential solutions for the teacher to consider. I chose the puzzle piece as the main figure because that is the commonly accepted symbol for autism. On the bottom side, I added my story about the origins of the Autism Cube.
The initial response to my project and the Autism Cube was surprising to me. Actually, it was kind of overwhelming. I knew there was a need because my brother struggled in school, but I didn’t realize how much of a need there was. My first presentation was to a private school in my home town, and the principal and teachers loved it. After that, I worked with an autism support group in our area who took the Autism Cube and presented it at a regional conference. They gave them out at the conference, but there were a lot of people who wanted one and didn’t get one.
Working on this Gold Award project also helped me better understand what I would like to do with my life. I have always had a passion for helping special needs children and children on the autism spectrum. Learning about ways to help autistic children helped me decide that I want to pursue a career as an occupational therapist working with special needs children.
One of my goals for the Autism Cube and for Are You Puzzled, LLC, is that teachers and other adults will be able to help children and students on the autism spectrum grow in knowledge and to teach them the skills that will allow these children to be productive in the classroom and other environments. I believe it is much easier for adults to change their approach than it is for a child on the autism spectrum to adapt to a new environment.