By Sandra Pearson
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Melva Radtke who, along with her husband and son, created 9th Planet. This unique video modeling program helps Tweens, Teens and Young Adults with Aspergers and high functioning Autism navigate the social world around them.
Following a science fiction storyline that will appeal to this age group, the videos feature Tad Shy an alien from the 9th Planet. Tad wants to interact with the “typicals” on this planet and Bob, a robot on his spaceship, acts as his coach, guiding him through social situations. The videos come with a workbook and are entertaining and humorous to encourage the repeat viewing that reinforces the social skills they teach.
9th Planet currently offers two skill sets. The first one deals with basic situations such as physical space, asking questions and eye contact. The second one tackles more complicated situations such as empathetic listening, recognizing sarcasm and phone skills. A new series offering job search skills is currently in production. This series will focus on the executive function skills needed for a job search and in the workplace.
And the best part, is that several members of the cast and crew have Autism Spectrum diagnoses.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
As with many innovative special needs programs and services, this one was created by a mom. Melva is an attorney and educator with a son on the Autism Spectrum. Tristan, AKA Tad Shy is now in his 20s but he wasn’t diagnosed until he was in Junior High. When he was younger, they knew something was “off” but no one could quite figure out what. He was diagnosed as ADHD and put on Ritalin but it was clearly not the answer.
Then an article appeared in Time Magazine about Autism and Aspergers Syndrome. The Radtkes felt like they were reading about their own son.
So while they had a name, Aspergers, and even an IEP, Tristan was aging out of programs designed for younger kids. Nothing in Tristan’s school programs fit him. They had nobody to help. So, out of frustration with their own situation, 9th Planet was born.
Success for Their Own Son
Melva and her husband had seen other videos and thought, hey, we can do that! So they did. Now Tristan has a diploma in film editing from a technical college and does the video editing for the Tad Shy series.
Melva says that being able to create something useful for their son and others is very rewarding. She says it’s been an amazing experience to watch the social impact the videos have had on a worldwide scale. And not only are other parents sharing success stories but the videos are also being used in school classrooms.
Tad and Bob give teachers, therapists and parents a point of reference when they talk about a skill that is less personal and less defensive. And ultimately more helpful.