Ferrets, Autism Awareness, and Acceptance!

Dog-meets-ferret...Some of you are probably scratching your heads, wondering “Now he’s talking about weasels?” because everyone knows that a ferret is a “domesticated polecat” and a member of the weasel family. And some of you know that a group of ferrets is a business. So what business do ferrets have with autism?

This week I’d like to introduce you to a particular business of ferrets – the Fantastic Ferrets, and more particularly to two hobs (yes, those are male ferrets) Alex and Hayden. The Fantastic Ferrets just completed the fifth grade in Greenville, Pennsylvania. It appears that Greenville is a somewhat small borough, with a population shy of 6,000 that celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2013. I had to look Greenville up on a map, and kept zooming out to see if I could find the name of a community I knew. It took a bit of zooming to discover the closest city I knew wasn’t even in Pennsylvania. But this small community has turned out some pretty large voices!

This ferret business describes itself as “armed and ready to take on the injustices of the world.” You will get to hear about two of their projects of special interest to those with ASD and those who care about them. But once you’ve read about these, I’m sure you’ll want to read more by going their web page.

The first project I’d like to mention is “Spread the word: Stop cyberbullying now.” Bullying is certainly not new – kids were even bullied when I was in school, and that was way back in the middle of the last century. But it was different then. You knew who the bullies were, most bullying was face to face, and most of it was even where others could see it and sometimes put a stop to it. Cyberbullying is as similar to what I knew as bullying as a modern car is to a horse and buggy – same basic purpose but a lot more powerful. With the advent of social media, and the near-universal acceptance of anonymity on the internet, bullies can hurl insults and intimidate with little or no risk of someone actually punching them in the nose for it! As always, kids that are “different” are the most common targets, and kids with ASD are usually seen as being pretty different. But the Ferrets took on the cyberbullies. They created a wiki (if you aren’t sure what a wiki is, let’s just say they created a website) to spread the word and get other students involved. Look through this site and it will prepare you for the next project.

Alex and Hayden are two Fantastic Ferrets who just happen to have ASD. I first heard about them reading a Discovery Education post written by their teacher, Janice Abernathy (Mrs. A). These two boys became friends, discovered they had a number of shared experiences, and found that they could help each other by sharing what they had learned over time. With a suggestion from Mrs. A the boys started a talk show that would help others benefit from their knowledge and experience (and exuberance). The Alex and Hayden Show became a class project, with classmates engaged in set design, research, filming, and marketing. Currently there are 17 episodes, and they are continuing to produce new episodes even though school is out for the summer. How many professional television series do you know that have 17 episodes in a single season? These two broadcast stars may be doing more to promote autism awareness and understanding than the big money media campaigns we see every April. Check them out on their show blog, or directly on YouTube. Start with Episode 1 and work your way up.

I’ll close with two quotes from Margaret Meade that seem especially appropriate this week:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”

“The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today.”

Alex, Hayden, and all the Fantastic Ferrets aren’t waiting for tomorrow – they are hard at work on solving today’s adult problems. Kudos to them and to their teacher, Janice Abernathy.

Russell J. Bonanno, M.Ed.
TAP Program Manager

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