Special education teacher starts each day with a compliment!

Special Books by Special Kids visit mayor's office

Mainspring Academy teacher Chris Ulmer’s kids visited the Mayor’s Office recently to talk with the Mayor’s Disability Council.

It all started with eight kids who have special needs and their teacher of three years, Chris Ulmer, at Mainspring Academy, a private, kindergarten through grade 12, special education school serving the Jacksonville area. The kids let Chris know that they often feel like outcasts, misunderstood and made fun of or ignored.

“Curious glances are directed at these children during community outings,” Chris said. “Their peers do not understand attempts at communication. Many adults avoid interaction because they fear they will offend somebody and don’t know the ‘appropriate’ way to interact with a special needs child.”

So, Chris decided to start every day by showering each student with 10 minutes of genuine compliments. Instead of focusing on what things they are not able to do or need to do better, he reminds them of all the things that make them each uniquely special.

“I noticed the kids were always more motivated, happier, and better-behaved on [the days that began with affirmations]. So we started doing it every day,” he told ABC News in a story (http://abcn.ws/1PMQMS3) that aired on Nov. 17.

Chris has been collaborating with his students and their parents about how they can work to erase social stigma in the larger community by showing the true nature of these eight students. The result is the Special Books for Special Kids project run by Chris with the help of others. The project includes editing videos, taking photos, collecting stories and responding to messages from people who visit the projects website or Facebook page.

“I also love to share stories from children with special needs around the world,” Chris said. “I believe if enough people follow our journey it will erase stigmas and show the beautiful nature of children with special needs.”

His wish is quickly coming true, as the story of these kids has gone “viral” in the past couple of weeks, due in large part to the ABC story which was quickly picked up by other news sources. He is receiving Facebook messages from parents and others around the world, with more than 136,000 “likes” for the Special Books by Special Kids Facebook page.

On the project’s website, Chris encourages parents and caregivers to share their stories of children with special needs by submitting a photo and story to SBSKsubmission@gmail.com. Viewers of the website can read interviews and see photos of his children. Ultimately, Chris hopes to have a book published about his students and their stories.

Chris has taught for the past three years at Mainspring Academy, which was founded in 2010 as Keystone Academy, part of Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics. It became its own nonprofit school in summer 2015. Mainspring Academy was founded on the principles of special education, applied behavior analysis and psychology.

Mainspring Academy, a special needs private school in Jacksonville, Florida, was created with the entire child in mind. The school staff looks in detail at each area of development to ensure that academic, social skills, vocational and behavioral content are being presented in the most effective manner. To support the school’s curricula, Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics professionals push in to the classroom as needed and provide mental, behavioral and rehabilitative medicine services outside of regular classes, as Mainspring’s largest service provider.

Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics was formed in 2008 by Katherine Falwell, Ph.D., BCBA-D. Keystone offers a comprehensive, integrated team of professionals including a pediatrician, licensed child psychologists, licensed mental health counselor, board certified behavior analysts, master’s level clinicians and occupational therapists, who provide in-patient and out-patient care to assist families and primary care physicians. They work collaboratively in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of a broad range of developmental, behavioral, learning and genetic disorders in children and adolescents (birth to 22 years of age). Keystone focuses on the whole child – physically, mentally, socially, behaviorally and developmentally – to offer parents/caregivers one source to help meet all of their child’s needs.


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