A version of this article, written by SelfDesign mom and learning consultant, Rebecca Smith, was originally published in the ‘Bowen Island Undercurrent, August 19, 2017’. Additional picture provided by Rebecca Smith.

The SelfDesign Learning Community is among the largest distance/distributed learning schools and personalized learning programs in British Columbia, Canada. Completely funded by the BC Ministry of Education, SelfDesign enables learners to complete K-12 by exploring their interests and taking the lead in their own learning and life. With personalized guidance and ongoing support from BC-certified educators, learning unfolds at home and within local and online communities.

My son Arrian (Ari) is now in his 5th year of living on Bowen Island. Our family moved here when he was three years old and awaiting his diagnosis of Autism.

Back then, Ari had no words and few gestures. He had a very difficult time communicating beyond pulling us around by the hand or screaming in frustration. The recent years of living at a slower pace in a quiet house surrounded by woods have lowered Ari’s anxiety significantly. Without the sensory overload of the city, Ari has been able to self-regulate and learn.

Ari enjoys personalized learning at home through SelfDesign, a distributed learning school. He has a support team that includes a Speech/Language Pathologist, an Occupational Therapist, a BC Certified teacher that follows and assesses his learning, an Education Assistant, as well as various other consultants. He is never without one or both parents; we typically teach him one-on-one while his big brother, Alexander, attends a local school.

When Arrian was four he started to present flashcards when he wanted a specific food item such as a banana. We decided to try loading some flashcard apps onto an old iPhone and he took to it straight away. This meant he could tap on the flashcard and it would say the word “banana” out loud for him. This was a major breakthrough in communication for Ari and it was the beginning of something quite amazing. It led to the purchase of an iPad mini loaded up with an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) app called Proloquo2Go. This was the pivotal point for Ari, giving him access to verbal language.

Discovery of this capacity in himself has brought him great joy. Ari is able to read and spell at his grade level and has an avid interest in expanding his vocabulary. Proloquo2Go updates frequently to keep up with popular culture. It can also be customized so if you need a button you can create it yourself.

Ari wanted to learn how to make his own buttons. He began by replacing some of the preset buttons with his own photos. He replaced the image in his “boy” button with a photo of himself. He gradually personalized and reorganized his AAC until it felt like his own.

A sampling of some of the buttons Ari created in Proloquo2Go about living on Bowen Island.

We gave him space to build and personalize it and he would come to us for support when he needed help. When he learns something new or explores a new place he will sometimes add a button or two to his words.

Over the summer, even though Ari’s technically on his school holiday, he has been working on a project that is very important to him: he has built a folder of all things Bowen. He has explored much of the island with us. He has studied Bowen maps and Google Earth. He spent last year practicing his social skills by visiting Bowen Island businesses in person asking each contact for a business card to add to his collection. He loves Bowen Island and has been very motivated to create a folder of language so he can talk about Bowen. It has evolved some since it’s first edition.

Currently, he has things sorted somewhat geographically with some sub-categories. He keeps adding to it and refining it. Some of the photos are ones he has taken himself while exploring and others he has sourced on-line. He hasn’t needed or asked for our help with this project at all so, the folder he has made has had no adult input at all. He just loves this place we call home and it’s a huge part of his world. He needed to have it represented in his own way.

Access and connection to his community have given Ari a wonderful quality of life on this island. As we celebrate Arrian’s 8th birthday this coming week we are again reminded how grateful we all are to be here.

To learn more about the SelfDesign Learning Community or to enrol, please visit www.SelfDesign.org