Tina Fletcher, EdD, MFA, OTR
Eight years ago, TWU Occupational Therapy professor Tina Fletcher, EdD, MFA, OTR, collaborated with the Dallas Museum of Art to host sensory friendly events to build autism awareness and bring OT training and teaching opportunities to her students. The events have now expanded across Dallas and influenced museum planners and therapists across the globe.
The inspiration for the autism awareness days came to Fletcher from 25 years of experience as a school therapist in a small town, and having a close relative with autism.
“When you live in the same town that your therapy students are in, you see them everywhere. It has given me a special insider knowledge of the lived experience for these kids and their families,” says Fletcher. “I also have a nephew with autism, and I’ve seen his challenges.”
Fletcher now helps host sensory events at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas Zoo, Nasher Sculpture Center and Dallas Museum of Art in collaboration with partners who call themselves a “sensory consortium.”
A sensory room is designed to create a relaxed and calm environment. The partners create sensory maps and web-based materials to support family needs. Students design activities with the abilities and interests of the children in mind. Families provide input regarding program needs and with new ideas.
When you live in the same town that your therapy students are in, you see them everywhere. It has given me a special insider knowledge of the lived experience for these kids and their families.
The collaboration has garnered attention from museums and therapists around the world. Fletcher has advised museums in Italy and Russia and is currently working with therapists in Australia interested in replicating some of the sensory room research.
“Since I had an arts background, the museum was a familiar place for me and I could anticipate some of their needs, but we didn’t know the community need would be so great,” says Fletcher.
Fletcher collaborates with the Center for Brain Health and the Callier Center, acting as advisors to the Dallas Museum of Art on an exhibit entitled, “Speechless.” In November, the exhibit will open to the public, not just people with autism, to expose others to experiences that come from having sensory differences.
The students make it happen. They plan the activities and help educate venues and families about managing autism and sensory processing disorders challenges.
The sensory events also incorporate meaningful learning activities and research opportunities for TWU students in the OT program. The TWU Dallas campus also houses a sensory room to act as a teaching and student support tool and a model for agencies and families to experience.
“The students make it happen. They plan the activities and help educate venues and families about managing autism and sensory processing disorders challenges,” says Fletcher.
With the assistance of current OT students and graduates, Fletcher is teaming up with young adults with autism in an ongoing study that evaluates the autism-friendliness of popular Dallas venues, starting with job fairs.
Since I had an arts background, the museum was a familiar place for me and I could anticipate some of their needs, but we didn’t know the community need would be so great.
Fletcher received her BS in Occupational Therapy from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, an MA in Education-Allied Health Sciences from the University of Alabama, a BFA in Fine Arts-Experimental Studies from East Texas State University, a MFA in Fine Arts-Sculpture from Texas A&M University-Commerce and an Ed.D. in Educational Design and Curriculum Instruction from Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Page last updated 11:01 AM, October 1, 2019