The Waupaca School Board recently heard a presentation on Understanding Autism – Putting the Pieces Together by four teachers who have a particular interest and passion for students with this neurological disorder.
With the increasing prevalence of students with autism in our schools, I believe it important to educate the community on the characteristics of these particular students and how educators teach students with autism differently.
This column will share some of the information given to the Board of Education during the hour long presentation.
It is intended to be a brief summary of the presentation and this disorder.
The entire presentation can be viewed on WIN TV by going to the WIN TV website and viewing the Feb. 12, 2013 Waupaca School Board Meeting. Their website address is www.wintvwaupaca.com/
The following four teacher made the presentation:
Kelly Baumgart, M.S., Certificate of Clinical Competence – Speech-Language Pathology;
Renee Harms, M.S., Certificate of Clinical Competence – Speech-Language Pathology;
Tracy Karabelas, M.S., Certificate of Clinical Competence – Speech-Language Pathology;
Aimee Lusic, M.S., Special Education Teacher.
Autism is a neurological disorder typically appearing in the first three years of life but not typically diagnosed until after age 4.
The combination of better diagnosis and an increase in children born with autism demonstrates an increase in prevalence from 1 in 150 in the year 2000 to 1 in 88 in 2012 (Center for Disease Control). The ratio of boys to girls is 5-1.
While there are many theories as to the cause of autism, the cause remains unknown.
There is no cure but symptoms may lessen significantly with intervention and/or skill development.
Students fall within a spectrum of autism ranging from severe to barely noticeable.
The number of students identified with educational autism in the School District of Waupaca approximates the general population statistics mentioned above.
A student must be experiencing particular difficulties with social relationships and communication to be identified with educational autism.
In addition to those identified students, the District believes there are more students with varying degrees of autism who have not been identified simply because their disorder is not effecting their education at this point.
Students with autism may exhibit behaviors such as anger, aggression, crying, avoidance, frustration, and screaming.
While appearing that way on the outside, those students are typically overwhelmed by their surroundings because of their autism.
The result is the appearance of a lack of social skills.
The student with autism is generally seen as socially immature because their brain is processing relationships, sights, and sounds differently than the student who is not autistic.
Because their neurological systems functions so differently, trying to fit into a neurotypical world results in significant stress and anxiety.
The good news is students with autism can learn social skills if directly taught by memorizing the routines of things such as manners and compliments. Many students with autism have a great memory for concrete information, but have difficulty thinking about and taking the perspective of others.
With proper teaching techniques, the student with autism can begin to understand other people have thoughts, ideas, and perspectives different from their own.
In addition, providing a structured environment allows students with autism to focus on the task at hand instead of the changes in their environment.
Our challenge is to help staff and students understand the world students with autism live in and how we can all help.
There are a variety of strategies used by special education teachers to reach students with autism and these successful strategies are being taught to other teachers as well.
Staff development opportunities help provide basic information to our teachers and aides to help them cope with students with autism and structure their teaching to accommodate the student’s needs.
In addition, our guidance counselors assist regular education students to help them understand what is happening with their friends and how they can help.
The School District of Waupaca is fortunate to have an enthusiastic and impassioned autism support team helping students, staff, and parents understand this relatively new world of autism.
Please contact Special Education Director Maureen Markon if you would like more information on this topic.
David Poeschl , Ph.D., is the Waupaca School District administrator.