Flummox and Friends: Social skills programming for quirky kids

Flummox and Friends is a zany, live action comedy program designed to teach kids social skills. The only problem? It doesn't yet exist. Find out how you can help.

SILVER SPRING, Md, November 20, 2011 — When parents of quirky kids look for appropriate video media to teach social skills, they usually find two broad categories: traditional social skills videos that are often outdated or poorly produced, and mainstream children’s television programming that often doesn’t fit the bill because it is age inappropriate or the characters model bad behavior.

Enter Flummox and Friends, billed as “a smart, quirky show for smart, quirky kids,” or, as creator and executive producer Christa Dahlstrom has called it, “a television program for nerd youth.” Flummox and Friends doesn’t exist yet, but Dahlstrom, along with co-creators Jordan Sadler and Liesl Wenzke Hartmann, hope to see it go live in 2012, by securing funding through a Kickstarter campaign.

Full disclosure here, Dahlstrom and Sadler are both people I consider friends, met through blogging and the online autism community. Further full disclosure? I laughed out loud when I watched their Kickstarter video. Check it out yourself.

Flummox will be a live-action comedy show that embeds ideas about social and emotional skills into the type of programming that kids enjoy watching. Dahlstrom says that she was inspired to create the show by watching her own son gravitate toward humor and story as a way of expressing himself, connecting to others, and learning. “Anytime he’s engaged in something that makes him laugh, he’s more open and more available to take in information,” she says.

Furthermore, Flummox isn’t asking kids who watch to change, and it isn’t sending the message that they need to be fixed. “The characters on Flummox and Friends don’t become any less quirky when they learn a new way of coping with a social challenge,” explains Dahlstrom. “They get to keep being who they are and we try to show the world through their eyes—that these situations are weird and hard—and not make them into characters that need to be fixed.”

The creators of Flummox have put a lot of work into preparing for their Kickstarter campaign. They’ve written several episodes and have gotten feedback from people in the education and entertainment fields as well as from parents and therapists. They invited people from a variety of backgrounds to watch a table read with the actors and give feedback on what was working and what wasn’t.

Flummox is well researched project, largely due to the efforts of Sadler and Wenzke Hartmann, both speech-language and communication therapists. “We helped [Dahlstrom] determine what language to use to describe situations and to teach kids effectively, based on our years of experience with this population,” says Sadler. “We also discussed the strategies we most wanted to see incorporated into the show—skills that we are teaching kids day in and day out were prioritized as target strategies. I know other therapists, parents, and teachers will also love the topics that the series will cover.”

Mark Anderson Phillips as Professor Flummox

Mark Anderson Phillips as Professor Flummox

The show’s target audience is elementary school aged children who are struggling socially, whether they have a diagnosis or not. “What’s special about this show is that it is designed for the children and the adults in their lives so they can learn together,” says Wenzke Hartmann. “Parents, teachers, and therapists will get a better understanding of the thinking patterns and emotional processes that children who struggle socially are working through, and will have real, concrete ways to support children in navigating these challenging situations.”

The creators hope to see their program in any one of a number of outlets. They are looking at cable TV distributors as well as newer distribution channels such as original content on YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. Regardless, DVD and episode guides will be a big part of their distribution to make sure that the content is available for families and the education market.

That said, the Flummox team is still looking for investors. The first step is to produce a pilot episode, which they are hoping to do via funding from Kickstarter. Kickstarter allows individual donors to make small contributions, which will hopefully add up to the $30,000 they are hoping to raise. They have until December 9 to raise that amount in the form of pledges. If they do, they get the money and will go on to produce the pilot. If not, none of the pledges will be collected. As of this column’s publication date, they have raised more than $23,000 in pledges.

“There’s never been a better time to get an idea out to an audience directly without going to ask permission from the typical industry and institutional gatekeepers,” says Dahlstrom, adding about the Kickstarter experience,” It has been energizing and humbling to see people responding this way. People are trusting us to pull this off—with their hard earned cash no less.”

If they do pull it off, the pilot episode, inspired by Dahlstrom’s son, whom she describes as “a young comedy nerd,” will go into production in hopes that socially struggling children will be able to laugh and learn all at the same time.

“The show is a springboard for learning that’s going to happen in the world, when parents and kids refer to the show, incorporate it into their play and their conversation in natural ways,” says Dahlstrom. “The comedy isn’t an add-on. It’s the focus of the show. I would be perfectly happy if kids didn’t realize they were watching a show about social skills.”

To support the Flummox Kickstarter campaign, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2055453201/flummox-and-friends. Find more information on the Flummox and Friends website. Sadler and Wenzke Hartmann are speech-language pathologists at http://www.communicationtherapy.net/.

Jean writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey. Read more of Jean’s work at Autism Unexpected in the Communities at the Washington Times.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Jean Winegardner

When Jean had her first child in 2001, "autism" was about the scariest word she could think of. Six years later when her second child was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, a form of autism, she was just happy to have a word to help him get the services he needed. Her autism journey has been full of tears, laughter, love and at least one attorney.

Jean blogs about her life with her autistic son, Jack, on her blog, Stimeyland. Her two neurotypical children, Sam and Quinn (one older, one younger than Jack), make frequent appearances there as well. Also at Stimeyland? Jean's quirky sense of humor.

She also runs AutMont, an events calendar listing autism-related events in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Raising a child with special needs is hard for so many reasons, but after living with Jack, Jean wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. Come along with Jean as she experiences the joys that come with parenting a special kid.

You can email Jean anytime at stimeyland at gmail dot com or follow her on Twitter, where, as "Stimey," she offers her world view in snippets of 140 characters or less.

Contact Jean Winegardner


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