By Julie Roberts
Conner Prairie’s annual Gingerbread Village competition draws all sorts of creative artists out of the woodwork, inspiring them to stretch their talent and imagination. These artists typically include professional bakers, girl scout troops, individuals and families. This year, students with autism from the Little Star Center in Carmel joined the talented fold. In doing so, they got to tap their inner artists and achieve learning goals in innovative and interactive ways.
Eight learners with autism, ages 13-17, created this year’s Gingerbread House entry. According to Jennifer Bilby, the receptionist at Little Star, the learners and therapists designed the house together. “Each learner decorated some aspect of the house and it was enjoyable to observe their interactions with one another.”
While making the Gingerbread House was fun, it also gave the kids the opportunity to hone social skills, such as cooperation, group activity, taking turns, waiting and working toward a common goal. Additionally they applied fine motor skills, such as placing items and tolerating different sensations. While those skills are challenges for people with autism, Bilby said the kids all agreed that while making the house, “the biggest challenge was not eating it.”
The Little Star Center is a non-profit organization that serves the needs of children and families affected by autism. Opened in 2002 by Amy and Steele Gudal for their daughter, Gentry, the Center in Carmel now serves 37 children and adults from ages 2 to 26. It was the first Applied Behavior Analysis facility in Indiana, which is the only therapy approved by the American Surgeon General. According to Bilby, the ABA designation is a medical model. The intent of this type of therapy is to reduce inappropriate behavior and increase communication, learning and appropriate social behavior. The ABA designation also allows insurance to cover the cost of attending the Center each year.
Visitors are encouraged to take a stroll through Gingerbread Village through Jan. 5 at Conner Prairie, 13400 Allisonville Rd. The village is included with paid general admission and free for members. To learn more about Little Star Center, contact Jennifer Bilby at 317.249.2422.