Parent develops creative education for the autistic
August 18, 2009
By Chantelle Lusebrink
When Anne Scroggs learned her son Mitchell Scroggs, 21, had autism in the early 1990s, there was little information and few opportunities for his education.
“When Mitchell was diagnosed, it was so bleak,” she said. “All the literature said people with autism should be institutionalized and that was unacceptable to me. My happy little boy wouldn’t be institutionalized. There was more for him. I knew it.”
Anne and Mitchell Scroggs’ perseverance not only led to Mitchell’s graduation from the Issaquah School District, but to the creation of a curriculum, called Creative Teaching CAP, that Scroggs said she hopes will help other special-needs children reach their graduations as well.
When Mitchell was born, Scroggs said she knew something was wrong early on.
“At 13 months, Mitchell seemed to lose his ability to hear me,” she said. “We’d call his name and he’d no longer respond by looking at us. He’d completely ignore us. His initial speech also disappeared.”
The change was even more noticeable to Scroggs, since the couple had a child 18 months older, named Matthew, who was developing typically.
After several tests, Mitchell was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, Scroggs said. Doctors were almost sure he had autism but the diagnosis couldn’t be given until he was 6.
As a result, the Scroggs’ were referred to the University of Washington’s Educational Experimental Unit, which provided educational opportunities for typically developing and special-needs students in the same class.
During that time, Scroggs said she absorbed every piece of information she could get her hands on and began working with Mitchell at home by cutting magazine and newspaper photos out of items, like cars, toys, clothing and food items, so he could point to what he needed and communicate with his family.
When he turned 6, the family moved to Issaquah, where Scroggs said she saw progressive educational programs to help both children get an education.
During the first few years, Mitchell progressed, learning peer socialization, interaction and new skills, but by middle school, his progress had stalled.
“He was still nonverbal at 13. He wasn’t happy and didn’t want to go to school. That is when I decided to take him out and see what could be done at home,” Scroggs said. “But when I pulled him out and had him in front of me, I had to figure out what I was going to do. The amazing thing was, all my research and volunteering in his classrooms came flooding back.”
Again, she began clipping photos and laminating them. Using Mitchell as a guide, she formed groups of nouns and verbs that he seemed comfortable learning together. She created simple-sentence storybooks from those word groups and designed homework for him. She also developed tools to measure his progress.
Within the year, he’d improved from a 30-word vocabulary to having more than 1,200 words to speak to others with, she said.
“I know there is potential in there. We just had to find the key to unlock it,” she said.
Despite his growth, she said she re-enrolled him in Issaquah schools because she couldn’t provide the social development he needed.
“When I took him back to school, his teachers were amazed,” she said. “When they found out what I’d used to help him, they asked if they could use it for other kids.”
Immediately, she began laminating sets of her son’s materials, making them more student- and teacher-friendly, reusable and more cost-effective, because she was giving them away for free.
Eventually, teachers convinced her she needed to begin a company to sell her products and Creative Teaching CAP was born a year and a half ago.
“The materials are colorful and simple. CAP products also allow for any adult or volunteer to work with the students. I can easily train my staff and high school volunteers on how to use the products and then they can begin working one on one with students,” said Kalissa Hovey, a Tacoma School District special-needs teacher. “I have been using these materials for two years and I cannot imagine running my classroom without these materials. They are a very important part of the daily routine of my classroom.”
“Our first mission and goal is to have products that help develop language, because there is a range of things students can do with it,” Scroggs said.
A bright future
Today, the business is growing, thanks to the special-needs teaching community. It is used in districts like Issaquah, Mercer Island, Seattle, Tacoma, Sumner, Clover Park, Snoqualmie, Tumwater and Federal Way. Teachers in states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and California also have its products, as do some in Canada.
With its success, Scroggs and her son Mitchell have been developing prototypes for more products, in subjects like math, science and life skills.
“It was never meant to be a business, just a way to help my son,” Scroggs said.
But as a business, the message she wants to get across is, “Don’t sell these kids short,” she said, adding that there can be more successes like her son’s. “I want to be a voice for kids with special needs.”
On the Web
Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.