For Kids with Special Needs, Creating Comics Helps Communication

Sharon Eilts, a education teacher in Sunnyvale, CA, has given her low-functioning students, a number of whom have autism or intellectual disabilities, an ingenious outlet that helps them communicate and affect social problems: they create comic books.

Eilts’ students are integrated into the center school and have lunch with other students and participate with them, when appropriate, in electives like education also as regular academic classes. But, she says, “sometimes they might come to the classroom and misbehave. They’d be grumpy or noncooperative, when normally they’re low-key and easygoing, and that i wouldn’t understand why.

“Communicating may be a huge challenge for these kids,” says Eilts. “Even if they will mention things, when it involves feelings, it isn’t easy.”

Then Eilts discovered MakeBeliefs Comix, an internet site that gives templates for creating comic strips, and she or he introduced it to her students as a communication tool. “I had the youngsters make three- or four-panel comics and put in characters and speech bubbles, and they’d type within the words,” Eilts says. “That’s once I learned that the youngsters were being bullied, or they were frustrated they couldn’t do something their peers could do. there have been all types of things that they had to confront that they couldn’t mention , but they might write on it employing a cartoon.”

Eilts also approached the school’s administrators to prevent the bullying, and she or he used the comics to show all students the way to navigate socially. “As soon as kids would misbehave, I’d invite them to make a comic book and tell me about it. The cartoons allowed students to feel safe describing their experiences.”

MakeBeliefsComix has been employed by social workers in Germany to show German to Syrian refugee children and help them express the trauma they experienced in leaving their country. Inspiration for the web site came from its founder Bill Zimmerman’s own childhood. Zimmerman says immersing himself within the world of comics was an shake his “stormy” and dysfunctional family life. Ever since he learned to read by sounding out the words within the “funnies” section of the Sunday paper, he had his nose during a magazine , reading other artists’ work and creating his own.

“I didn’t desire I had a voice once I was a child ,” says Zimmerman, now 78, a journalist and former editor at Newsday, an extended Island, NY, newspaper. “The comics I write come from trying to assist people , especially children, find their voice. I wanted to strengthen to children that their opinions are valuable and will be shared with people .”

While at Newsday, Zimmerman created interactive comics for the newspaper with the assistance of illustrator Tom Bloom. The comics, which he called Make Beliefs, posed inquiries to readers and asked them to reply to the editors. After Zimmerman retired in 2004 and commenced teaching English as a second language (as a volunteer), he launched MakeBeliefsComix within the hope that it could help his students better grasp the concepts he was teaching.

Site users make their own comics panel by panel, adding characters, objects, speech bubbles, and backgrounds from a variety on the web site and inserting their own words. “Part of my goal was to make an activity which may bring families closer together while having fun. But it had been also how to show language skills and encourage reading and writing,” he says.

As more people came to the web site for educational and therapeutic purposes, Zimmerman added a special needs section that has ideas for helping those with autism, physical disabilities, or head trauma. “Comics characters are enjoyable to seem at and explore, and that i want people to possess fun and make a story that’s an empowering experience,” he says.

Today, Zimmerman is functioning on an e-book that prompts people to write down down their blessings. “I have cancer of the liver immediately , and treatment is difficult,” he says. “When i’m going certain chemotherapy every fortnight , I write to seek out strength to affect the treatment. I write words of comfort, courage, and gratefulness about what is going on on in my very own life. Asking questions and finding how to precise myself is how I deal with problems. you would possibly say I sleep in a phantasy world to some extent, but that is what helps me.”

With his e-book and website, Zimmerman hopes the phantasy world of comics will help others, too.

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