Learning with your friendly, neighborhood OUCARES

Social cards teach the kids how to combat their “social villians” in real life situations. “Space Invader” dealt with personal space, and “Topic Twister Meister” focused on conversation bullies.

Comic books: a way to break away from reality, flip through colorful pages and help children with autism learn.

“What is unique is that we aren’t using them as a tool to read, we are using them to develop social skills,” said Kristin Rohrbeck, program coordinator of OUCARES.

The OUCARES comic book club holds events for OU volunteers to work with children with autism and use comic books to help the children understand the emotions and feelings the characters go through.

For people with autism, it can be hard to “step in another person’s shoes” and know what they are feeling, according to Rohrbeck.

However, being in a group, discussing the emotions is a different and unique way of teaching children.

One way the club teaches the children is with social villain cards. Each card has a social fear, such as ‘worry wart.’ The card lists what a worry wart is and the kids act out the fear. Then, together they discuss the best way to defeat the villain, according to Allie Blazius, the comic book club instructor.

“Engaging with them and talking with them is a huge deal,” Blazius said. “If you make that connection, then they can just go off and talk about it for days on end.”

The club teaches the children about independency skills, and by reading the comics, they can actually look at how the heroes deal with different emotions through the artwork and text bubbles.

They specifically use “Marvel” and “Star Wars” comics, but many times the children will bring up all types of heroes – like “Mario,” “Pokémon,” not just traditional superheroes.

“We went down this road because children with autism like to fixate on one thing, like superheroes,” Rohrbeck said.

The idea for the comic book club came when the director of OUCARES went to a Dallas conference about how children with autism can learn in different ways. The director decided to purchase the program, and from there, it evolved.

“[The club] teaches them coping skills and gives an avenue to try out different coping skills,” OUCARES program coordinator Stephanie Laubach said.

Each session involves reading and talking about comics, as well as a few group activities—like creating personal comic strips and games, which promote social interactions.

The club is also a place where the parents can connect. In an adjacent room, the parents can wait for the club to dismiss and many of them have become good friends.

According to the parents, it is a nice way to talk to each other because they are all on the same page and have something in common.

The comic book club has sessions for children 8-12 and 13 and up. Each session is eight weeks and meets once a week for an hour and a half.

For more information or to become a volunteer, visit oakland.edu/oucares