- BLAIRSVILLE - With four autistic children in her life, one
Blairsville woman's life couldn't get any more hectic ... or
But Heather Pearce's busy lifestyle - which also includes working on
her master's degree in special education and producing a learning
game she developed for autistic children - is well worth it. Her
dedication to the children and to autism itself is evident in the
pictures of her children on her coffee table, the look in her eyes
when she talks about them and the voicemails on her cell phone of the
children singing to her.
And also in the fact that none of the four are her biological or
Pearce, 30, is a member of Family Behavioral Resources' therapeutic
staff support, out of the North Huntington office, and works with
children with autism, a neurological disorder that affects normal
brain development in the areas of social interaction and
communication skills. She splits her time daily at the homes of four
children and provides one-on-one play therapy, including speech and
Over the 4½ years she's worked with autistic children, Pearce has
developed a strong bond with the four children she sees daily, so
much so that she often refers to them as "her kids."
"I don't think I could function without some of my kids. You cannot
not love my kids," said. "My little guys, they're just amazing little
Her dedication to and emotional bond with one child in particular
prompted Pearce to develop the game Emotions Go Fish, an emotions-
reading game to help autistic children understand emotions.
"One of my guys couldn't understand emotions," said Pearce, an
Indiana University of Pennsylvania psychology graduate.
Autistic children "don't perceive emotions. ... To get it to click is
difficult. ... You can't teach them emotions in a fun way."
So Pearce decided find a way to do it. She got the idea while playing
Go Fish with one of the children. She then created cards, which are
faces that all look identical except for the facial expression.
The game, which Pearce has had patented, can be played seven
different ways, including receptive ways, such as asking the child to
hand over the card with a certain expression; and expressive ways,
such as holding up a card and asking the child what expression that
card is trying to convey.
But the important thing is that, no matter what way it's played, the
game must be fun, Pearce said.
"That's the biggest thing," said Pearce, who noted the game can also
be used for children with other disabilities or brain injuries. "I
want to make it fun for the kids. ... If they're not laughing, you're
not playing it right."
Pearce said she has seen good success rates with the game. One child
she played the game with would cry because something was wrong, but
he couldn't express what it was or how he felt.
"If they can't express that, how can they tell you what they need?"
Now the child can verbally tell her how he feels and physically show
"If you see any of the kids ... the progress they made is amazing,"
said Pearce, who is willing to train people how to use the
game. "It's so much fun just to see them do well. ... I love it."
Because children with autism learn differently, repetition is key. A
therapist could work with a child on a certain subject 50 times
without the child understanding, which can be frustrating. When one
way of teaching doesn't work, therapists and parents try another and
another until one works and, say, on the 51st time, the child will
"You have your days when it's bad," said Pearce, who will complete
her master's degree from Seton Hill University in the spring.
But "when it clicks, they don't believe it. It's like the fog lifts.
You live for those days."
Pearce's next project is a therapeutic preschool for children with
autism she hopes to open after graduation. The goal is to get the
children independent enough to be able to handle a classroom setting
and to make friends.
"I don't want them to have tougher lives just because they have a
disability," she said. "I want them to be happy.
For more information or to purchase a game, contact Pearce at (724)
422-5944 or hpearce@...