Toronto·Video

How a boy with autism and his sponge character creations helped bring his class together

A Toronto Grade 4 student with autism created a character out of a cleaning sponge to help soothe himself when he gets overwhelmed. Now, “dirps” — as he calls them — have become part of the curriculum.

Staff at Toronto school using creations, called 'dirps,' to help students 'bond'

These 'dirps' are based on the cartoon characters SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star. (CBC)

A Toronto Grade 4 student with autism created a character out of a cleaning sponge to help soothe himself when he gets overwhelmed. Now, "dirps" — as Ryder Alma calls them — have become part of the curriculum.

Ryder had been struggling with the return to in-person learning after being isolated for two years because of the pandemic, his mom told CBC News.

Sponge characters have always helped him comfort him. So when he saw a sponge at school, he got to work bringing it to life.

"I first saw a sponge in my old school and I was like, 'I got to give it eyes,'" said Ryder, who is a student at R H McGregor Elementary School in East York. 

School staff saw how Ryder's sponge characters made him more at ease and decided to use them to bring the class closer together.

"I thought, why not just take it, turn it into part of our curriculum so the whole class can do it?" said Ryder's teacher, Milad Mazaheritaghizadeh.

"It was great seeing [Ryder] being part of the classroom. He was facilitating the groups and seeing them make the 'dirps'."

Not only that, Mazaheritaghizadeh said, the activity created "a great bond" between classmates. 

WATCH | Here's how a Toronto Grade 4 class is using sponges to be more inclusive:

How a Toronto Grade 4 class is using these sponge characters to be more inclusive

3 months ago
Duration 2:57
A student with autism created a character out of a cleaning sponge to help soothe himself when he gets overwhelmed. Now, “Dirps” — as he calls them — have become part of the curriculum.

With files from Sarah Said

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