Good communication, as any therapist, life coach, or couples’ counselor will tell you, is key – yet it often eludes even the chattiest among us. Minds In Motion, a therapy clinic for neurodiverse individuals, gives a level-up to its students by teaching communication pathways through art. Occupational therapist Jessica Sibley started the clinic in 2015, with a focus on language skills and communication through letterboards. Adding film to the curriculum, the clinic brought in Shane Morton from Silver Scream FX Lab. A 35-year special effects artist in the film and TV industry, Morton previously worked on a film starring and written by two teens with Down Syndrome called “Sam and Mattie Make a Zombie Movie.” Now he lends his talents to Sibley’s effort in teaching her students stop-motion animation. Sibley and Morton joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to talk about Minds In Motion and the program’s inspiring students.
Letterboard communication tools and playing with words in film:
“It’s just a board that has A to Z on it, and the students work to practice the motor skills to point to letters to spell. So a lot of our individuals are bombarded by sensory differences; they might be easily distracted or overwhelmed, and they have impulse control issues. For instance, they might be inclined to say the same word over and over,” said Sibley. “So before they really are fluent on our letterboards, we work with them so that they can communicate reliably, and that becomes a means of communication for them.”
“We made the premise of our week about illusion, and how the illusion is perceived by our brain, and how it’s created visually; whether it’s looking at an image and seeing multiple images depending on how you look on it, or colors,” said Sibley. “Looking at stop-motion, how to create movement using images and pictures, and we used their bodies to create letters… Finally, we wanted to bring it all together using film, and all the cool stuff [Jared Faust, a colleague] and Shane knew how to do.”
“It kind of started with the stop-motion and the shape of words. But then what they did was, they took these words and they applied them to these cardboard buildings that we made,” Morton said. “We built them an environment, so they could become, like, all-powerful kaiju and smash these buildings that were metaphors for the barriers they have to deal with in life. It’s kind of heady stuff, actually.”
A rewarding connection for both teacher and student:
“Starting off in my career, I think I was very heavily focused on sensory systems, and making sure the lights weren’t too bright, or noise wasn’t too loud,” said Sibley. “The real key here is helping them participate and engage in the world, and the world is going to have those components, no matter where you go. We can’t always guarantee that someone is going to be able to understand or be able to dim the lights, or use quieter voices, or whatnot. So I really work with my students on helping them find coping strategies… We really coach them on how to use their body more meaningfully and purposefully.”
“There were little magic moments… that were happening in this project, and to me, that sort of thinking would come from somebody that had been doing this for a while, not somebody that had just learned the process three days ago,” said Morton. He added, “These messages… they were so eloquent. These thank-you notes, at the end of the thing, slayed us; Jared and I had to keep it together so we didn’t cry in front of everybody because it was so eloquent what these guys were saying.”
Improving our own communication skills with the neurodivergent:
“What’s so unique about my clientele is that they can do and say things that just come off a little unique, or different, and sometimes people just don’t know how to react to that,” said Sibley. “One thing that I love about being out in the community, or about meeting people like Shane and Jared, is that we are so comfortable with our students as they are.”
“Speak to them directly. If they don’t respond, just use a kind follow-up,” said Sibley. “Just sharing information with them. One thing that they can do, is definitely hear and understand everything. So I always am looking for things that I can teach or tell them, and just acknowledging that I see and I respect them.”
“You do have to be careful, because they are paying attention to everything, and they’re taking notes, and their memory is better than yours,” said Morton.
More information is available at https://www.mindsinmotionot.com/.