Ladan Mohamed, 16, of Germantown, hosted a “Beach Party” last month for autistic children in her community, giving them a place to hang out and participate in activities with their peers.
The event, which was held at the Germantown Community Recreation Center on July 26, occurred after months of planning and is the project Mohamed is using in order to receive a Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts.
“My sister has autism and I just noticed that children like her don’t get the same opportunities to hang out with their friends,” Mohamed said, adding that her sister, Leila, is 12 years old.
Mohamed, who has been a Girl Scout for almost eight years, had to submit a proposal to an official board in Washington before she could go ahead with the project and must send in a final report before she can receive her Gold Award,
With the help from Beth Lewis, Leila’s former special education teacher at Clopper Hill Elementary School, Mohamed was able to organize her plan and figure out the logistics to actually make it happen and run smoothly.
“With my experience as a teacher of students with autism, I was able to help bring the ideas from concept to reality,” Lewis said.
On the day of the party, nine children and a handful of volunteers, including Kaylah Walton, Allison Karwoski and Hannah Shraim, who are all friends and peers of Mohamed at Northwest High School, worked at craft stations and chowed down on pizza. The theme was “Beach Party.”
The children made jellyfish out of bowls and tissue paper and their own little “beach in a cup” out of pudding and various other edible toppings. There was also a large sandbox with beach-themed toys hidden throughout that the children could collect and add to goodie bags they could take home.
Mohamed made sure to keep in mind the issues common among those who have autism, like short attention spans, and only made the event an hour and a half long.
“There was also a sensory break table if they needed to take a break. Sometimes it can get to be a little too much for people with autism,” Mohamed said.
Because Mohamed is entering her senior year at Northwest High School, she is unsure if she would be able to host an event like this again, but thinks other people should and was thinking about sharing her plans with parents or even younger Girl Scouts.
“The parents appreciated that [their children] had something to do and look forward to,” she said.
Both Mohamed and Lewis could tell the children had a good time and their time and effort paid off.
“It did require a tremendous amount of preparation to make it run smoothly and Ladan did all of the background work,” Lewis said, “She is a very organized and creative energy. She had everything planned out with extremely organized time tables.”
Not only were the children able to see their friends, most of which were current or former students of Lewis and a part of the autism program, but their parents were able to reach out each other.
“Parents had the opportunity to see their kids with same age peers. They were eating pizza, they were doing crafts. I think a lot of parents don’t see their kids doing that,” Lewis said. “I applaud her. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun watching the kids be kids.”