On Camera

How new recording and audio equipment is helping Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton helps kids

Behind a one-way mirror at the Maier Centre Preschool, Nalini Ostashower gathers with a group of other parents and watches her four-year-old daughter play with her fellow students.

Like Ostashower’s daughter, all of the children are on the autism spectrum, and an educational aide stands by to explain the lesson that’s unfolding. The preschool is one of the many support services offered by the Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton (CASE), and the observation room is one of five that it installed during the construction of the Maier Centre for Autism Services. Ostashower says the observation rooms, outfitted with high-tech video monitoring and audio equipment, have helped her understand her child. “Any child, neurotypical or on the spectrum, is going to act differently when their parents are in the room. Having that venue, you learn sometimes that they can do more than you expected.”

“They have the opportunity to see the strategies that work well for their kids, so parents can then take those strategies home and use them.”

Completed in 2012, the Maier Centre is the first of its kind in the city. Offering a variety of programs for kids with autism and their families, ranging from preschool classes to respite care, the space centralized services that had previously been scattered throughout the city in community centres and church basements. During construction, CASE installed the observation rooms, which are attached to some of the program rooms, including the preschool room and gymnasium. One of the primary purposes for the rooms is to allow parents to come in for guided observations of their children during preschool classes or other group sessions.

“They have the opportunity to see the strategies that work well for their kids, so parents can then take those strategies home and use them there,” says Terri Duncan, the Executive Director of CASE. Because of the cost of recording equipment, however, the rooms had no audiovisual support when the Maier Centre opened. Video recordings had to be done with hand-held camcorders, which were intrusive and distracting.

CASE turned to Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) for help, and ECF came through with a $31,795 grant to purchase and install cameras and real-time listening devices in the observation rooms. Craig Stumpf-Allen, the Director of Grants and Community Engagement at ECF says the organization saw the need for the equipment and how it could assist children and their families. “When kids are diagnosed with autism, the parents often don’t know how to interact with their kids,” says Stumpf-Allen, pointing to the many challenges faced by those with autism, who may have difficulty communicating with their family and peers.

The audiovisual equipment will also allow CASE to expand its staff training programming and research. The organization can now record staff and parent training sessions and store them in a video library for future viewing. The cameras can also be used for research, collecting data and doing behaviour analysis going forward. “We use the recordings to look at pre- and post- videos of the kids, seeing where they were at the beginning of treatment and where they are now,” says Duncan. He is especially excited about the remote training program that CASE is planning to launch, which will allow families and professionals treating children with autism in northern communities to access live training sessions digitally.

Ostashower is thrilled with the progress her daughter has made thanks to CASE and what the organization has done for her family. “We made a connection, and she started to come out of her shell a bit more. She’s happier,” she says.